Strategic Thinking Articles

Your Association Should See Visions

This is the fifth article in a series on "How to be a Futurist"

Scene:  Top of a high summit overlooking a vast horizon.  A team of people smile and cheer as they take in the views from their new perspective.  Cut to a different scene.  A group of people, far below the summit, beleaguered and weary.  Several are sitting around looking nonplussed.  A few are barking orders at each other.  One is heading down the mountain.  All seem lost.  Fade away to the words “Got vision?” 

Let’s face it.  Most organizations don’t even think to articulate a vision.  Indeed, the act of developing a vision is usually brushed aside while groups agonize over how to perfectly word a mission statement.  Those that do manage to work a vision in with the rest of the planning process seem to do so as an afterthought – and those “visions” are typically long-winded statements that, on the surface, are supposed to make the heart race and spirits soar.  Read between the lines, however, and you find that they say very little – and what they do say usually has little or nothing to do with the desired future direction of the organization.  In a nutshell, most organizations end up like our weary and beleaguered friends from above, managing to hang onto the face of the mountain but never reaching the summit.

The crux of the problem is that the development of a vision is not something that can be done in a one-day retreat with the board of directors.  Visioning is a process that must involve the organization as a whole.  Visions are intertwined with the values of the people who make up the organizational unit.  Matching individual and organizational values makes the difference between a high performing organization and one that is just getting by.

Let’s look at what a vision is.  First and foremost, a vision describes the future an organization wants to create.  It is a powerful mental image of how an organization sees its future unfolding.  A vision is created of both the heart and the head.  Though it is future-focused, it is grounded in reality via research (environmental scanning and trends/issues identification).  Ideally, a true vision is a picture of the preferred future an organization wishes to create and answers the question “what do we really want?”  The vision should reflect what the organization most cares about (VALUES) and represents an expression of what the mission will look like.  A vision must:

·        Be realistic, feasible and attainable

·        Be credible and easily understood

·        Be empowering, energizing and optimistic

·        Be measurable, flexible and evolving

·        Be shared and communicated

·        Be implemented in order to be successful

·        Have a champion/spokesperson

Beware the slogan trap!  A vision is more than just a set of hopes for the future.  The statement “we are/will be the premiere association representing widget manufacturers internationally” is not a vision.  Slogans do not communicate the sense of purpose and direction of the organization and they do not carry enduring power.  The vision is a commitment and provides the context for managing and designing the changes necessary to reach desired goals.  Think of the vision as a compass that stretches the organization’s potential.  They are strongest when they focus on something that has enduring quality.  They should make sense of what the organization is doing by stressing core competencies on which constant improvement can be built.  Do right by visioning and visioning will repay mightily with alignment and overall congruence with organizational goals, empowerment, respect, interdependence, innovation and commitment.


This article was published in the March 1, 2002 issue of Association Trends magazine

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