How to Socialize a Vision? Choose From These Five Tactics

A segment of a social network

The leader helps the social network draw connections between vision and action

Vision is defined as a specific endstate or intent, typically tied to a moment in time. Stated simply, you can see a vision.  Other people will refer to vision as the “to be” in contrast to the “as is.”

Few people will argue with the assertion that shared vision is one of the most important components of strategy. When people know the vision and believe in the vision, they can both align with the vision and commit themselves. They work independently on their parts of the initiative, and they can do so with the confidence that their efforts are good investments of their time and energy.

The concept of vision seems so easy.  It ought to be straightforward to develop, right? In some cases, it is easy but in other cases, it becomes a laborious exercise that ends in futility. The problem is in socializing the vision so that it is shared by all important stakeholders and is a force for action.  Most organizations find that as you get farther away from the “leadership circle” of an organization, people are less and less likely to be familiar with the vision.  If they are not familiar with it, how can the leader assure that they understand it and act in alignment?

This framework* of five possible tactics to communicate or convey a vision is a useful managerial tool. The word socialization is perhaps the best word for the process. It is based on a simplification that there is an authority figure (“the boss”) and members who take action in support of the vision. The five ways are:

  •  Telling: The boss knows what the vision should be, tells the vision to the organization, and members of the organization comply with that vision.
  • Selling: The boss knows what the vision should be, but needs the organization to “buy in.” The boss uses a carefully crafted message to persuade the audience of the benefits of the vision, and members decide whether to support the vision.
  • Testing: The boss has an idea of what the vision should be, but wants examine the reactions of the organization before proceeding.  A sample vision is provided, and members provide feedback.
  • Consulting: The boss wants creative input from the organization before proceeding.  Open-ended questions are asked of members of the organization.
  • Co-Creating: The boss and members develop a vision based upon their deeply-held fundamental values and aspirations.  So first values and mission is captured and processed, vision emerges as individual members coalesce around those values that are most personally meaningful.

Note the pattern: the tactics at the top of this list consume little time, but often produce little commitment in the audience.  The tactics at the bottom create commitment, but consume resources as the vision is both socialized, developed, and refined.

The leader of a strategic initiative needs to examine the tradeoffs. Vision development is hard work. Vision communication is time consuming. Vision alignment engenders conflict. People adopt visions at different rates.

For example, telling the vision is expeditious.  The boss makes an announcement to the employees and they receive it.  The downside is twofold: the vision’s success depends upon compliance by the organization, which means that some sort of enforcement effort is also necessary.  The vision also may be misunderstood, and the organization may overlook possibilities that are distinctive and add value.

At the other extreme, co-creating will gain lots of support because people have participated in the creation of the vision, but it takes considerable time in discussion to identify and resolved differences, and build consensus.

As a coach/consultant, I’m most often asked to support on vision for the tactics of selling, testing, and consulting.  Sometimes clients simply need an objective sounding board, and sometimes they need help to engage the audiences for their ideas and reactions.

*        The source of this framework is the Fifth Discipline Fieldbook

How have you seen visions effectively conveyed to people?



About Greg Githens

Author, How to Think Strategically (2019) Executive and leadership coach. Experience in driving change in Fortune 500 and mid-size companies through strategic initiatives and business transformation. Seminar leader and facilitator - high-impact results in crafting and delivering strategy, strategic initiatives, program management, innovation, project management, risk, and capturing customer requirements.
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