Let me ask those of you who are Chairpersons, Directors and CEO’s of Indigenous organisations: “Do you really know what your vision statement means?”
Do you know what your organisation will look like when you have got there? How will your people behave in the future – do they behave as the vision statement imagines they might?
I have been helping Indigenous organisations prepare strategic and business plans for decades. All too often, I see organisations with a Vision Statement that is printed in plans, brochures, documents and written on the “About Us” page of their websites. And yet, when I ask those questions, although people might say “sure, we do,” they can rarely translate their vision into concrete steps and goals to help them actually work towards their vision.
All too often the published Vision Statement is a nice set of words that don’t mean anything in their work.
I have to ask, why don’t people make more of their Vision Statement? Why isn’t their Vision Statement the ultimate goal of all planning and operational management?
How do you make it so?
In any planning engagement, instead of launching into a SWOT exercise or writing down a series of unrelated goals (things to do, more like!) you should approach it from the point of view of the Vision Statement.
Whether, in the past, it has been a historic statement of intent that sounded good at the time, or if it is a true description of where the organisation wants to go, buried deep in it is a real perception of how people thought. You need to pay respect to the thinking of that time.
So, I actually start with an examination of the organisation’s Vision Statement. What does it really mean?
I have made available here a free worksheet to help you work out the true meaning of your Vision Statement, as a description of the desirable future.
Once you have described and characterised what attaining the vision actually means, in some detail, you can then focus on it as a key to the implementation of strategy. You can translate the well described vision into a set of related operational goals that actually cascade from the meaning of the vision.
Once you have clear goals, that point straight to the attainment of the vision rather than some random to-do list, you can ensure that you are communicating and operationalising your activities and services in a clear direction.
This has far-reaching management consequences beyond the articulation of goals and strategies that are aligned and synchronous with the Vision. A clear vision, cascading into related goals, can also cascade into organisational and individual performance measures.
Using the free worksheet can help you in the first few steps.
Write down your Vision Statement, then briefly review it to obtain an initial “reading” of what it might mean the ultimate goal of the organisation is – it’s higher purpose beyond mere numbers and other metrics. What is it meant to achieve for people?
Then, look at the Vision Statement again using four specific perspectives, and describing the effects of the vision from the viewpoint of each of those perspectives.
The first perspective is from the viewpoint of the people your organisation serves.
The key question here is, at the time in the future when you have already attained your vision, how will your organisation look to the people you serve?
Making sure that your answers are related directly to the sentiments and hopes expressed in the Vision Statement, ask yourself what the people whom you serve will see at that time in the future? What is your organisation doing, and what is it doing for them? How are you doing it, how are you ensuring that they are actually getting the benefits that are inherent in the Vision Statement? What are the types of things they will say about you, and exactly why will they say them, that is, what are you doing to make them say those things?
This perspective takes the Vision Statement and then describes what it really means to the people you serve.
The second perspective is the viewpoint of your people – your staff and members.
Again, answering the question while relating it directly to the words and expression of the Vision Statement, at that time in the future when you have attained the vision, how will your organisation look to its staff and members?
What are the relationships between the staff and the members and the organisation that will be different from today? What will the organisation be doing in the recruitment, retention and development of staff? What affect will this have on staff behaviour and loyalty and work? What about the members – how will the organisation be working with them and using any talent and experience together? What will staff or members be saying or thinking about the organisation and why – what are the direct activities that the organisation is undertaking that will make them say those things?
This second perspective describes that the vision means in terms of your people’s perception.
The third perspective is that of your business processes. These are the business processes that every organisation have, such as those embedded in operations, services, finance, human resources.
The question here is, keeping closely to what is expressed in the Vision Statement, at that time when you have attained your vision, what are the key business processes you must excel at?
This question must take you into the strategic level and beyond a wholesale description of all your business processes. To ask this question in a different way – amongst all your business processes, which ones are the key processes that you absolutely must excel at in order to reach your vision?
This might be the efficiency of client-facing services, or the governance processes, or perhaps the revenue functions. Which ones are going to be the key to your success in attaining the vision and therefore must be the focus of improvement?
Finally the fourth perspective is that of your finances.
To balance benefits to your clients, the organisation of your people, and the processes that you must excel at so that you can attain your vision, the metrics around financial performance must also be considered. So, at that time in the future when your vision has been attained, what will your finances look like?
In thinking about attaining the vision – through providing services that will make your clients say those things in the first perspective, through organising and developing staff and members so that this results in the description in the second perspective, and through resourcing yourself to be able to excel at the key business processes, what financial results and stability will you need? Describe what the income will look like and where it will come from and how. What level of annual income will be generated at the time of the attainment of the vision? What about your assets and liabilities – what will they be in type and in amount? What is the state of your liquidity and financial stability?
If you dive deep into these four perspectives, while keeping the Vision Statement clearly as the goal, you should have arrived at a clear definition of what your Vision Statement actually means:
- To the people you serve;
- To your staff and members;
- In what you have to be good at doing; and
- In what the financial results will be.
Taken together this should be a very clear description of what you are striving for.
Then, take the next step.
Examine this description and cascade from it, the goals that you need to set in order to attain your vision. What goals do you need to set to create the services and benefits that make your clients say those things about you? What goals will, if achieved, create the relationships with staff and members and create those results? What goals need to be set in order to work on, and improve key business processes? What goals are necessary to manage your finances so that the descriptors are met?
The value in this exercise is, firstly, that your planning then sets goals that really mean something, that, if you achieve them, ensures that you are actually working in the direction of your vision, and not an annual meandering of what hot button is prevalent then.
But there’s even more value coming from this system.
You can actually tell people what your Vision Statement actually means – that it is not just a paragraph on the way but a real statement of intent. The ability to communicate where you are actually heading brings a whole rack of benefits including clearer proposals to funders and donors and helps you roll out changes to your staff.
Having some clear goals cascading from the Vision Statement (and it’s description in the four perspectives) also allows you to set organisational key performance indicators and milestones that count. If you have a goal about the performance of your staff that came from how the staff would be managed and organised at the time of the attainment of the vision, then you can set KPI’s about staff performance.
Deep-diving into this process produces a strategic plan that follows the vision to goals to KPI’s to strategies that all point to the single ultimate position – the vision.
Stop your usual planning processes. Don’t list your goals willy-nilly.
Take the first step.
I hope you get value from this, and if after this exercise you get nothing else but the ability to fully describe the new future you are heading towards, you are one step ahead of most.