The first time I recall being curious about the topic of vision was while working on my Boy Scouts nature merit badge. My dad was helping me go through the pamphlet. We talked about which animals had the best vision. He said it was the eagle – the rank to which I aspired and later achieved. I learned this magnificent bird of prey sees clearly eight times farther than humans and perceives a wider range of colors plus ultraviolet light. That’s why the eagle can zoom in on a small rabbit camouflaged in its surroundings two miles away. Turns out that years later, the eagle is a great metaphor when you’re helping executives cast clear visions.
A very long cycle unfolded as the need for mission and vision statements entered the executive radar, became widely adopted, and then devolved into a mindless, templated, fill-in-the-blank exercise that sufficed for late-adopters.
As the vision process became generic, its perceived value was diminished, and the time for evolution in this critical area of organizational leadership arrived.
Before Jack Welch retired, he grew GE’s value 4,000 percent and left this timeless nugget, “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.”
I think the most important and formidable things every CEO has to do are: 1) Imagine, craft and cast a clear and complete vision, and 2) Inspire all those around them to own it and join the exacting campaign necessary to cause it to materialize.
It’s common to engage a CEO who has some trepidation about taking the time to thoughtfully work through the vision process and then drive that very personal stake in the ground. It’s a courageous step because it carries significant risk and the attendant responsibility and accountability is burdensome.
But workers need and want to understand their leader’s vision. To see the way forward, it’s helpful to them to have a clear and complete view of: where we’re going, when we want to get there, what we’re likely to encounter along the way, and the specific resources that are going to be available so the desired destination is reached on time.
There are tough waters to navigate.
For openers, organizations have to buy in to their leaders before they’ll buy into their vision. And the troops respond much better to their leaders’ earnest passion and commitment than their position atop the organization chart.
My hero Warren Buffet wisely says, “Never test the depth of the river with both of your feet;” but to make vision work, leaders must be all in. That’s why they earn the big bucks … and how they ultimately maximize performance and reward growth as the organizational commanders.
To accomplish this onerous task, I advocate an evolved method called Vision Casting. This is a thought-provoking and invigorating process. It actively explores and imagines the future and the role the business can and will play in that future. It emphasizes identifying opportunities to innovate and create disruption.
Thomas Frey is a top-rated speaker on Futurism. I love his approach. He says, “The future creates the present.” So you start with the future, then think backwards.
At one point, I had an epiphany while reading about a Nobel Prize-winning Austrian physicist, Edwin Schrodinger. I’m paraphrasing, but essentially he offered this mind-bending thought, “The task is not so much to see what no one else has yet to see, but to think what no one else has yet to think about what everyone sees.”
Breakthrough visions are invisible at the moment because they’ve yet to be discovered through fresh thought.
The Vision Casting process begins with a series of one-on-one meetings with the CEO. They’re led through questions that help them begin to imagine the future. The outcome tees up a discussion that invites active participation among the leadership team. It encourages and welcomes challenges and input. If the Vision survives this crucial test, the collective purpose of the organization is clarified, there’s harmony and alignment across the leadership team, and all believe there’s a realistic likelihood of success.
The final product is a narrative clearly expressing the complete Vision in an active and inspiring tone. This document charts the specific way forward and provides the platform for consistent organizational thinking, planning and execution against the Vision.
Amazon’s leader, Jeff Bezos, advises, “Be stubborn on the long-term vision, but flexible on the details.”
Vision Casting is a dynamic and ongoing process. The narrative is constantly being updated and refined as course corrections and adjustments are dictated by a fluid marketplace. It’s formally reviewed on a quarterly basis with leaders and departments to sustain a steady and timely course toward the desired destination.
Steve Jobs left us a treasure-load of valued wisdom including this thought, “If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you along.”
More next week.
Bruce Anderson is president and CEO of Anderson Consulting. Contact him at email@example.com and @bruceadfw.