A 3-5 year vision. Why bother?

I dug this up for a client today and thought I would share it with you too. It’s a little ditty about creating a vision. I get a bit miffed because I see people focusing on planning objectives that simply don’t make a difference. As a tool, a vision of the future is more valuable as an inspirational tuning fork than it is a device of prognostication.


News flash: A lot of so called business experts, or gurus, have been panning strategic planning processes. The gurus say it is a waste of time. This is often true but not for the reasons they cite. Most strategic planning is a waste because our basic assumptions and criteria for success are a mile off the mark. Here´s what we know:

  • Our vision for the future is almost always wrong.
  • Many people dread the strategic planning process, endure the mind numbing meetings, and then quickly move on.
  • The vision and strategy become a static statement of what the corporation will suck out of its management team (in other words, the strategy is seen as a tool for the company, not for the management team).

Well no wonder these processes are a waste! Strategic planning done in this fashion (often the case) is missing the boat. Missing the point. Squandering the opportunity.

Traditional Objection: Our vision for the future will be wrong and therefore it is a waste of time.

Rebuttal: Of course it will be wrong! Organizations are chaotic systems and the outcomes cannot be predicted. If the goal of your vision for the future is to create an accurate picture of what will happen, you will be disappointed each and every time.

Alternative view: While a vision is never accurate, creating a compelling vision of the future is still a good thing to do. If you have no vision, you cannot focus nor are you able to steer things in a positive direction. Even more important, is the role a vision can play in shaping and developing a leadership team. Visions created and handed down by corner office leaders are useless. The real opportunity in creating a vision is having a group of people generate and get connected to a journey they will take together.

Controversial point: Each and every member of the leadership team — especially in smaller companies — MUST be engaged and committed to the journey. Nothing less will do. Nothing less is good enough!

A vision that is held by a group is more flexible and nimble. Imagine a group of college buddies going on a 10-day hiking trip. They create a plan. Half the excitement is in preparing for the journey — training for it. They meet and set out on the trip. Do things go as planned? No! There are ups and downs and the real experience is much richer than the plan could have ever been. They may shift directions. They respond to unforeseen problems. They planned well and took the initiative to educate themselves on the terrain and features of the park. The planning and the training helped make this a great experience, even though some aspects of the plan changed or were abandoned.

A vision held by a group"?¦
What does that mean — HELD? We hold values. We hold feelings and emotions. We hold dreams and passions. A vision held by the group resides inside each person — not in binders, not in Power Point presentations, not in email tag lines.

Imagine how silly it would seem if a couple days into the 10-day journey, our group of friends sat and reviewed their vision. They need to go over tactical plans and discuss options, but the core vision is held inside and needs no review. The vision creates an environment for aligned action and responsive adjustments. Because visions are never right, it is important to renew the vision periodically (this is much different that reviewing it).

A vision articulates:

  • How you will make meaning in the future. How you will approach making strategic decisions as they come up.
  • The size and focus of the business or venture.
  • The specialness that will imbue all products and services and that will connect those in the company with customers and key stakeholders.
  • The overall formula for business success (profitability, organization, market reputation).
  • Who the company will be relative to the market, who the target market will be, and who the leadership team will be.
  • How success will be measured.
  • How you will embark on this journey together.

A leadership team that is focused, jazzed, in action, and committed is tough to beat. A dearly held vision provides a compass and focus for an unpredictable journey. Settle for nothing less.

Postscript: Each business will require different kinds of visions. In high tech, thinking out more than 18 months may not make a difference (it might). In other businesses, visions stretch decades. What´s important is that the vision is held by the leadership team and can serve to drive the organization forward with velocity.

P.S.P.S: It’s the quality of the conversation that matters. A great vision can provide important fuel to a great leadership team. A source of pride, resolve, and inspiration.