An important task for the leader of a strategic initiative is to bring clarity to the statement of (call it any of the following) strategic intent, vision, outcomes, goals, and business requirements. I introduced Step 1 of a four-part approach for interpreting a strategy (see the side box for a recap of the issue) in a prior post. In this posting, I provide some insights on finding, evaluating, and improving the vision statement.
Finding the Vision Statement
One important purpose of strategy documents is to justify budgets and the continued support of a functional organization; the result is that the documents contain descriptions of activities.
A strategic initiative is different from the ongoing business of a given function because – as an initiative – it is intended as a launch of something important.
Your primary task in reviewing a strategy document for vision: find the language that describes the outcomes, goals, results etc. in the document. I happen to like the word “vision” because vision is something you see; it is a more concrete word than the more common word “goal.”
Evaluating the Vision Statement
When discussing strategic initiatives, we want to make sure that the vision clear and compelling. The Chrysler Viper had a vision that was “a production automobile that evokes the Shelby Cobra” and Domino’s pizza was to “win a taste test against national competitors.” The guiding principle is:
A good vision statement is verifiable.
You can verify the vision statement in one these four ways: demonstration, testing, analysis, or simulation. Also consider the following principle:
Vision statements that are closer to the present should have more detail
than those that are farther out in time.
The Phil Delta Theta fraternity provides an example of how to do this well. Their “Strategic Initiative #1 – Growth” explains that they will execute strategies to achieve 200 chapters and colonies by the year 2020. They provide more detail that says that this growth is targeted to achieve an outcome of a total of 12,250 members. How are they going to do this? By installing 7 chapters per year, starting in the year 2010.
Improving the Vision Statement
Vision statements for strategic initiatives can usually be improved, and this provides the opportunity to involve important stakeholders. Here are some suggestions:
- Involve others. Consider the advantages of each of the five ways to socialize a vision.
- Consider big stretch goals and dreams. I am a big believer that people can accomplish great things. I encourage your to think about considering a breakthrough result rather than an incremental result.
- Dig into the data. Vision is not magical dreaming. It means you need to know your important (and interesting) stakeholders interpret the world around them: technology, social factors, economy, and so forth
- Create milestones. Consider a series of vision statements, each at various points in the future; say 2 years out and 5 years out.
- Create criteria for verification. Those vision statements that are closer in time have more detail than those that are farther out in time.
- Consider them as a chopping mechanism. As Chris Peters of Microsoft says,
“A good statement tells you what’s not in the product. The hard part is figuring out what not to do. We cut two-thirds of the features we want to do in every release off the list. If we could actually write down everything we wanted to do, it would be a fifteen-hundred page document. So the vision statement helps you in the chopping mechanism, not in the creation mechanism.”
Vision, Alignment, and Commitment
I have previously explained that alignment and commitment are fundamental characteristics of a successful strategic initiative. I think that vision is perhaps the key tool for achieving it. If a group of people can see the same destination, they can both align their energies and make better choices about whether the benefits that come from achieving the vision is worth their investment of time, energy, and emotions.
Your homework: look at your documents. Is there a vision statement? Does it make sense? Is it verifiable?