Every organization, whether new or old, lives and dies on vision. With it, the organization rows as a cohesive whole in the same direction. Without it, chaos ensues and unintentionally destroys the work of its most dedicated people. In this article, Milwaukee-based executive and public speaker, Jason Webb shares his insights into what you can do to create a vision for your organization that actually works.
As the leader of an organization, you are the holder of the vision. This is, and will always be, the number one priority of your job.
So, how do you create a vision for an organization that actually works?
In a career that has included over 20 years of senior leadership roles in both large, existing and small, start-up organizations based in Milwaukee and internationally, Jason Webb has discovered a process that has yielded great results regardless of the context. In nearly all cases, when implementing these core values organizations saw 100% or more growth towards its strategic goals.
Mr. Webb learned much of the insights presented below from his friend and industry leader in businesses, churches, and nonprofits: Will Mancini. The following principles are the adaptation of what Mr. Mancini has outlined in various books and seminars.
Vision Begins With Questions Not Answers
While it would be tempting to simply lay out a grand vision for an organization based on what you, as the leader, desire, that would be neither prudent nor wise. Rather good vision always begins with the right questions. This is especially true in entering an existing organization with a long history. If you were to simply declare a vision, even if it was great, people would not follow. They need to own the vision. It needs to come from them as well as you. So the most effective thing you can do is working with key leadership groups answering these questions:
- What is our local predicament?
- What are our unique resources?
- What is our driving passion?
The place where local predicament, unique resources, and driving passion meet is where you will find our vision. As you explore each of these questions, you will find that they each have subsets of specific questions to help you dig deeper into the subject.
- What are the pressing needs of our constituents?
- Have the pressing needs changed over the last 5-10 years?
- If so, how have our programs changed to meet the needs?
- What are the characteristics of the people we serve? What are their greatest needs?
- What are the beautiful parts of our local community? How do we tap into those?
- What are the unique qualities of our organization? Not necessarily what is our mission but do people feel when they think about us? What are the first words that pop into their minds?
- What type of people resources do we have available?
- What are the unique talents and gifts of our staff?
- What do we have that other organizations like us do not? In other words, what sets us apart?
- What are we doing that other organizations like us already do and do better? In other words, what should we stop doing?
- What are our unique partnerships? Have we leveraged those enough? If not, why not?
- What type of financial resources are available?
- What are avenues of potential funding that we have yet to explore?
- What is a success story like for us?
- What gets us out of bed in the morning?
- If we could picture our organization 10 years from now as good as it could possibly be, what would we see?
- Why do we do what we do?
- What is it about the people we serve that we love the most?
- What characteristics do we want to see developed in anybody, no matter what age or background, who goes through any of our programs?
- How do we define success?
- What makes “us, us”?
As you begin to explore these questions you will begin to discover the unique mission of the organization. In a new organization, this process is vital because you are getting buy-in from the very beginning. The people and staff you lead will own it just as much as you.
In an existing organization, it is equally important because it will build off of the past legacy, yet it will have a new face. The DNA will remain even if some of the successful programs from the past give way to new innovative thinking.
Create a Clear Long-Term Mission and Values
Once these questions have been answered then, and only then, will you be able to determine a clear mission and guiding values for the organization.
The mission should be clear and compelling and based out of the questions you answered. The values (4-5 is usually the rule of thumb) will also come from the questions.
Keep in mind, in an existing organization you may discover that the existing mission and values perfectly capture who you are. That’s fine. Most likely, however, it will be a combination of the current mission/values with some changes, new ideas and language that make it crystal clear who you are and want to be.
Develop a 5-year Specific Vision
With the long-term mission and values established then you can create a 5-year strategic vision.
This will include 3-4 pictures of what you want to see specifically accomplished over the next 5 years. These pictures will be clear, inspirational, and measurable. They are not everything the organization will do, but they are the top priorities for the coming years.
Determine Immediate Actionable Steps
This all cannot be accomplished right away.
Instead, you will need to prioritize the vision and begin quarterly and yearly concrete, measurable action steps, and goals in order to reach these goals. Staff and key volunteers will not just be responsible for their individual tasks but, more importantly, how they are contributing to the overall vision. They need to be inspired by the bigger picture but have something very concrete to attain in the short term.
Go Slow Now to Go Fast Later
As the point leader, your greatest temptation will be to want to rush this process. You will want to see immediate change and dramatic results. Be careful. While your drive is admirable if you do not give time for this process to root itself in your organization you will ultimately do more damage than good. If you need to spend a few months longer really answering the first three core questions then do so.
As Will Mancini once said, “Go slow now so you can go fast later.”
It is vital to have as much (although you will never reach 100%) buy-in and ownership as possible so that once the vision is firmly established, and strategic 5-year goals named, everybody is using all their energy and resources towards that common goal.
When that happens, watch out!
About Jason Webb
Jason Webb is a Milwaukee-based public speaker, movement leader, strategic thinker, and a results-driven executive with a proven track record in fundraising. He has helped start multiple churches and non-profit organizations, ran their multimillion-dollar campaigns, and oversaw a complex $12.5 million budget at his last organization. Mr. Webb is also a philanthropist, passionate about helping those in need on a global level.