The three most common misconceptions about vision
Visions are very trendy. Perhaps triggered by Simon Sinek’s “Start with why”², we know that questions about the “why” inspire top companies and managers to succeed. In recent years, this has often led me to deal with team, product and company visions. As an Agile Coach I was allowed to conduct vision workshops myself and of course I was also allowed to work in companies that had more or less a vision at one time.
What I noticed during this time is that companies and teams fail even when a vision is created. And that, although often a lot of money, time and consulting services are invested in the creation of visions. I have tried to break down the reasons for this and would like to go into detail here about the most incisive mistakes which, in my experience, make a vision fail at the outset and turn it into a rather tiredly smiled at accessory that misses its potential effect. However, I would like to point out that the following points reflect my experience and I therefore do not claim to prioritise or to be complete.
Definition of terms: Vision
In order to exclude possible discussions on the term vision from the beginning, I would like to use the following definition to establish a common understanding of the term vision in the corporate context. My offer need not be correct, but will serve as a basis for this text.
In the business context is a vision, according to the Gabler Wirtschaftslexikon³ is:
“vividly described plans for the future of the company, against which the corporate strategy is aligned and which are communicated by superiors with great commitment and persuasive power within a so-called visionary management. Visions as management instruments unfold their power when they include a challenging market strategy with external reference. On the other hand, it is necessary that visions acquire an individual and orienting meaning in most employees.”
What I like very much about this definition is that it refers to “most employees”. In my experience, there is already a serious error in thinking here, which can be very hindering, especially when creating a vision. This brings us to error of thought no. 1.
Misconception no. 1: The vision MUST fit for all
Even though we are currently living in a time where we can assume that most people consciously choose their profession, I think that only a few are aware of the vision of a company. If at all, they are concerned with the “what” and “how” of a company. What the company wants to stand for and what it was founded for, is at least conscious of when applying. I am not talking about knowing the slogan, which is often well formulated on the company side, I am talking about a real awareness. The own responsibility to deal with whether I want to be part of the company vision and what that means for me and my work in the company. This is exactly where an often observed error of thought lies when finding or creating a vision. Especially existing organisations that want to review or reformulate their vision tend to make this mistake. The vision is often thought for everyone and formulated accordingly. In the end, everyone in the company should be able to identify with it. From my understanding this contradicts a vision. In my opinion, a vision has to trigger action, therefore it can also polarise and ultimately lead to changes in an existing company. A vision and everything based on it must make everyone in the organisation question their actions and, if necessary, change them. Helpful questions, which protect from making this mistake, can be:
- What do I understand by the vision?
- What does the vision do to me?
- To what extent does the vision change my actions?
Misconception no. 2: Keeping up appearances
An often heard sentence in vision workshops is: “that doesn’t sound right yet! Of course, catchy slogans like “Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” or “Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected” are valuable. They have the advantage that they are easy to understand and can therefore be easily anchored in the mind. It is a huge advantage if each individual always bases his or her actions on the vision.
However, these catchy slogans cannot be the goal of vision-finding. This is often where thinking error no. 2 arises: A vision captivates through content, not through expression and formulation. I experienced a workshop where the basic pillars of the vision were already clear at noon on the first day. Five additional workshop days were invested in order to find a supposedly incontestable and effective wording. The result was two sentences that were formulated so generally that the uniqueness of the original vision idea was absolutely lost in my eyes. When asked six months later, workshop participants confirmed to me that the vision was received with little interest in the company. It did not bring about any significant changes in the company and some of the participants were only able to reproduce the vision in fragments.
So if the vision does not have to be a catchy slogan, what can it be? I would like to refer here once again to misconception no. 1: it should trigger action and encourage continuous reflection on one’s own actions. It should point in a direction. If a long text can achieve this, why not be satisfied with it first?
I am currently working with my colleagues on our vision as an area within the company. We have broken down our vision into six sentences after a few joint rounds of individual ideas and wishes, over a very long text. As a division, we are convinced that this gives us something that provides us with a current orientation and that we can orient ourselves and our actions. I think that if we always keep the vision in mind and use it as a driver for our actions, we will sooner or later arrive at catchy formulations.
Misconception no. 3: Everyone knows what to do
Often the creation of a vision is a real tour de force. Not infrequently I have felt a real relief among workshop participants when a satisfactory result was achieved in the formulation of a vision. In fact, the result often reflected expectations that were expressed in the feedback as follows: “With this vision, we are taking a huge step forward with the entire company”.
Unfortunately, this is the popular misconception no. 3. The vision is often a basis for movement. But the evaluation of this movement only becomes visible with the results. It is more important, however, to understand that the vision must find its way into the company. When I speak of a path here, I mean both the dissemination of the vision, the discussion of what it means for the individual in the company, and what the next steps are to get closer to the fulfilment of the vision. This is where companies often miss the opportunity to make their vision a real fixed star within the company. Especially in large companies, visions are often handed over in the form of events, meetings, slides, charts and the like. However, the handing over rarely leads to the desired result, namely the discussion of the individual. Without this confrontation, the resulting actions that lead the company towards the vision are missing.
I am convinced that companies should make an investment in “breaking down” their own corporate vision. It would be conceivable to determine at regular intervals what effect the vision has on individual parts of the company, to what extent the vision affects the company as a whole and what effects the vision has on value creation in the interests of the customer.
Creating a vision, sharing it within the company, always challenging it and establishing it as a guiding principle for working and acting costs time, energy and money. I am convinced that this investment will not only result in an increase in overall commitment, but will also ultimately have an economic impact. The added value will be reflected in the company’s key figures, provided that the vision is created with the honest intention of obtaining an unconditional “buy in” from all members of the company, to do their part in achieving the vision.
I assume that the moment the connection between one’s own actions and the effect on the achievement of the vision becomes clear, the vision has a real chance to become the guiding principle of a company. If the organisation is also prepared to make the necessary changes in line with the vision, this can increase the value of the company in the long term.
Or to conclude with an Indian wisdom: “All things begin with a vision. They have their origin in a vision, and then they have to be implemented.”
Besides his main activity Andreas Ulrich can be found as a speaker at fairs, events and meetups. As co-initiator of the Digital Innovation Camp in Ibiza, he believes that only a mixture of known and new approaches can find ways to develop evolutionarily into a success-oriented and dynamic company.