Creating a Compelling Vision
To lead effectively, it is essential to have followers. A key part of obtaining followers is creating and communicating a compelling vision that means that others want to follow where you lead.
This is particularly important in driving change.
Whether as part of a planned programme of major change, or simply to explain where the organisation needs to go next, a vision is an important part of leadership.
This page explains more about the process of creating one, and also discusses how to make it compelling to you and others.
The Importance of a Vision
Our page on Implementing Change provides some tools and techniques that can help with change management, including explaining some of the reasons why change programmes fail. Kotter’s eight reasons for the failure of change programmes, drawn from his experience working with organisations over many years, include lacking a vision and under-communicating the vision.
In other words, two of the eight main reasons why change fails are related to creating and communicating the vision.
Every successful large-scale change that I have seen has, as a part of it, a change vision
It is, therefore, hard to overstate the importance of creating and communicating a clear and compelling vision.
What is a Vision?
A vision is, at its simplest, a picture of where the organisation, group or individual needs to be, or where it is going.
A change vision vs. a vision statement
Organisations often have vision statements.
Originally, these were designed to show where the organisation was going, and provide motivation for employees to follow. Too often, however, they are now simply trite statements of broad principle that mean nothing in practice.
This is not the subject of this page, which is about creating genuine and inspiring visions for change and development.
A change vision is therefore a picture of what the organisation or group will look like after the necessary changes have been made.
Really compelling change visions also, however, set out what the organisation will be able to do, and what opportunities it will be able to take advantage of, after the changes have been achieved. In other words, the vision also includes the reason for the change.
Fundamentals of a powerful and compelling vision
There are two fundamental elements of a powerful and compelling vision:
It is simple and easy to understand.
Ideally, when written down, it should fill no more than half a page of paper, and take around 30 to 60 seconds to explain. This means it can be communicated quickly and effectively, and more importantly, it is likely to be remembered and passed on to others.
It must, in other words, be clear, precise and achievable, not a vague statement of broad principle.
People within and outside the organisation must be able to understand clearly what the organisation will look like or do once the vision is achieved.
It is logical, but also has emotional appeal.
A powerful vision is logical: it is reasonable, and works intellectually. It must, however, also make a conscious appeal to the emotions. In other words, it must ‘grab’ people, and make them want to follow, but can also clearly be achieved and is a reasonable thing to aim towards.
The precise nature of the vision will vary depending on what needs to change. It might cover people, places, technology, behaviour, or something else entirely. It will depend what the organisation needs to achieve.
The effect of bringing together these two requirements is that visions often involve ‘big ideas’. These can be big, sweeping changes, and it can be easier to get people excited about these. It is important to remember, however, that sometimes the most challenging changes to make, and the biggest ideas, are the ones that seem smallest. A good leader’s vision is likely to encompass both at different times.
Visions in everyday life
Parents use visions all the time as tools to get their children to do things.
“Come on, let’s get dressed, because today we’re going out to meet Susie and John. We can have an ice cream with them if you’re quick.”
“You need to do your homework if you want to be a vet when you grow up.”
These share the hallmarks of being simple, logical, and appealing: the child can see that they are possible, but they also express what the child really wants.
Creating the Vision
One of the hardest things about creating a vision is that it is often highly personal. It is very much the leader’s own vision.
The emotional impact comes from its importance to the individual, and it is hard to get that if the vision is designed by committee. This is, of course, one of the reasons why vision statements are often so meaningless.
In practice, it means that one of the fundamentals of leadership is that you have to create your own vision. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers to how you can do this: there is no obvious process, because a vision comes from the heart as well as the mind.
However, if you are struggling, you may find that these questions help you to think through some ideas.
What matters to you?
What gets you out of bed in the morning? Why do you come to work?
These questions matter, because it is hard to be enthusiastic and passionate about something you are not interested in. To be a compelling vision, it must matter to you. Understanding what makes you tick is therefore vital.
This is not to say that what matters to you must become your vision for the company. But it does need to be consistent, and you do need to be passionate about making it happen.
What is the problem that you are trying to solve, or the opportunities that you want to exploit?
There must be a reason for wanting to change: why is it necessary?
If there is no real reason for change, beyond ‘I want to stamp my mark on this organisation’, then it may be better to think again. Change programmes are hard, and often fail. They should not be undertaken lightly. Being clear about why they are necessary is vital to creating commitment in both yourself and others.
Problems or opportunities?
It is much more inspiring to think in terms of opportunities, rather than problems.
- Problems are bad things, and we want to move away from them.
- Opportunities are good things: they allow us to achieve more.
Recasting your ‘problem’ as an ‘opportunity’ therefore helps to make any change seem much more positive, and much less like being punished.
What would the organisation look like to be able to exploit these opportunities?
This is not necessarily about what precise changes need to be made, but more a broad picture of the most important elements of an organisation that is exploiting these opportunities. For example:
- The organisation must be a good place to work for people from a wide range of backgrounds, and value the different ideas and skills that each one brings.
- We need to be able to analyse our customers’ behaviour in real-time, and then act upon what we learn.
A final thought
The vision does not need to say how the organisation will move from ‘now’ to ‘then’. That can often be achieved in several different ways, and getting embroiled in the detail is not helpful.
The crucial thing at this stage is to have a clear picture of what ‘then’ looks like, including what new opportunities will open up as a result. Others can be involved in the ‘how’.
For more about ‘how’, you may find our pages on Strategic Thinking and Action Planning useful.