In our practice, it is common that an organization at some point embarks on the visioning journey. Depending upon the company and its history, this journey can take a variety of paths. But in almost all cases, it involves the creation of one or more artifacts: Mission, vision, principles, values, strategy, and the like.
The world has learned several important points about these efforts:
- It is not about documents, but about the thinking. In particular, the need for pervasive strategic thinking. These documents are of course necessary. It is simply that the artifacts themselves are not the goal, or where the true value lies.
- All these artifacts should collectively tell essentially the same story, just from a different perspective and with a different focus. They must all reinforce the same central themes and describe the same entity. Otherwise, what gets communicated is confusion and irrelevance, regardless of the actual content. In general, the fewer artifacts the better. The simpler the message the better. The more focused the better.
- The essential value and power of all these artifacts lies in the degree to which the leadership actually lives and breathes these principles and continually reinforces their essential ideas through frequent and direct interaction with all constituencies—customers, employees, partners, and shareholders. These interactions represent opportunities for the leadership to highlight practical examples where these ideas have worked or where gaps are found. It is through this pervasive personal dialogue (not a speech, or presentation), and only this—the documents (or, posters, web pages, etc.) themselves will always be weak vessels—can the essence of the ideas come alive and mean anything. Consequently, in addition to the creation of any new visioning documents, the organization must include how it should be communicated and used as a tool for increasing dialogue and actively and continually promoting its key messages.
- Finally, when the leadership thinks about this type of new vision or strategy effort, they need to answer a few questions: What is our goal? Why are we changing what we have now? What exactly does success look like? How will we know whether the new "vision" made any difference?
We use the phrase that "everyone has a piece of the truth".
If the goal is simply a new document (or, paragraph) that does a better job of describing who the organization is now and why they exist and then gets published somewhere, then it is a fairly straightforward PR or marketing piece. In other words, the skills needed are good writing skills to achieve this document re-write goal.
But, if the goal is change, then that needs to start with some alignment on what is not working now, as well as what the future-state should look like. This requires intensive, inclusive (and safe) dialogue among all constituencies, where the leadership can see who they are (their "truth") through their constituents' varied lenses.
For this goal, the writing is the easy part.