The 7 C’s of Powerful Vision

How many times have you seen one of those vague, slightly inspiring, but wishy-washy vision statements?  They’re often found buried in a thick report or framed on a wall, overlaying a sublime photo.  Nobody knows quite what they mean, who wrote them, what actions they imply, or why they should care.

Vision is a critically important part of any process of goal attainment or achievement. Without vision, there is little clarity, alignment, or motivation to move toward the desired outcomes. Yet most people and groups do not have a strong sense of what they want to achieve. Forming a good vision doesn’t happen overnight…it evolves with the investment of time and energy needed to make a vision powerful.

What Exactly is a Vision?

A vision is a clear, compelling image or sense of a desired future state. It is created with the intention of being transformed into a future reality. It represents a goal or achievement that motivates people to take action to get them to that future state. If it’s a good vision, it will grab people in the gut, touch them deeply, and move them to action toward the goal represented by the vision. It becomes the living, breathing force behind the actions of an organization. If it’s not a good vision, it will fall flat, fail to motivate and align people, and may even result in cynicism and lower morale in an organization.

What Makes a Vision Powerful?

With all this at stake, an important question for leaders to explore is: “How do we know whether we have a good vision?” Is it like art, where we just know it when we see it? Or is there some way we can look at our situation objectively and understand what’s working well and what’s not?

I find it interesting to look at how diamonds are evaluated. Ultimately what is important is their overall brilliance and beauty, yet it is extremely useful to identify the most important aspects that result in this brilliance and beauty. Diamonds are generally evaluated on four aspects, known as the 4 C’s: Cut, Color, Clarity, and Carat Weight. Each quality has its own scale, and all diamonds are evaluated on these scales to objectively evaluate their brilliance and beauty, and therefore their value.

I propose that we can look at the power or quality of visions in a similar way. Ultimately, what is important is the motivation, alignment, and results they create for people, yet we can identify a set of aspects that create these outcomes. I have found in my work that the most useful distinctions can be distilled into 7 C’s: Clear, Concrete, Compelling, Creative, Consensus, Communicated, and Committed. Each of these aspects can be evaluated on a scale of 0 to 100% quality. 100% is defined at the point at which additional improvement efforts would not be worth their cost.

The 7 C's of a Powerful Vision

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Practice of the Month: How Powerful is Your Vision?

Even though most of us understand that a powerful vision is critical to achieving what we want, we don’t usually put much attention on the quality or power of our vision.

This month’s practice is all about taking stock of the level of quality of your vision. You can do this practice on any level you choose — individual, group, or organization. You can do it with a big, long-term vision, or any of your smaller, shorter-term visions. Just make sure you explicit identify which vision you are working with in this exercise.

Take some time this month to think about your visioning with a curious and open mind. Use the 7C framework to ask yourself questions and rate your visioning in each of the 7 areas. Plot your ratings on a radar diagram.

What areas of your visioning are strong? Which are weak? What can you do to improve the ratings of the weaker areas? Would other people in your organization give the same ratings you did, or would you expect to see big differences with others? What can you learn from all of this?

You might consider taking some action to improve your visioning. If necessary, find support either inside or outside your organization to make changes. It could be one of the more impactful things you can do right now to make a difference in your organization’s success!

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The Need for Collaboration in Creating a Sustainable Future

No Fish Left by 2050?There are over 2 billion people on this planet living on less than $1 a day. Another 2 billion average just a bit over $2 a day. And the gap between rich and poor is only getting bigger. Natural resources are deteriorating an alarming rate. We’re over-fishing our oceans to the point that experts predict the collapse of all fish and seafood populations by 2050.

Why do we have these problems? There a many reasons, some of them complex, but I believe that there is a fundamental issue underlying it all. We have become incredibly good at creating complex, vertical organizations that each do a part of the overall picture very well–organizations that produce food or goods, provide transportation or services, or sell solutions to problems. These organizations–usually corporations–have become very good at maximizing productivity to deliver high quality results. The issue is that their orientation is short term, and their perspective is focused on their little piece of the whole picture.

The basic nature of global issues, on the other hand, is long term and interconnected. No single organization–or even a nation as powerful as the U.S.–can ever hope to solve these problems alone. No single technology or process will solve them either. The one thing that I’m sure will be needed to solve these problems is collaboration. Collaboration is the process of people from various backgrounds working together to achieve a common goal. It’s not easy to do, nor does it happen automatically. It requires skill, intention, integrity, and resources to do well. Collaborative planning is a discipline in its own right, with skills, best practices, and a complex body of knowledge and aptitudes to master. What would the world be like if governments and corporations treated collaborative planning as a critically important skill for creating a better future?

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Purpose Beyond Profit

One of my greatest passions is doing my part to help corporations generate a strong sense of purpose beyond making money for its shareholders. So, when I came across this post on purpose beyond profit by Chris Nel at the Tom Peters blog, I just had to share it here. Chris says:

“I believe that we as humans search for a meaningful purpose in everything we do. We are at our very best when we find it. My simple business hypothesis is based on the fact that when humans are at their best (i.e., are purposeful) they run/work in extraordinarily successful businesses. So it turns out that the leader’s primary job is not to be a clever strategist or a brilliant technician (let alone control freak) but to help people find a clear sense of purpose (not revenue targets!) in the work that they do. Profit will follow from this, not lead it.

“For many, despite the material perks and relative comfort, corporate life adds up to the kind of purposeless existence that I would hate anyone I cared about to live in. (Doubt this? Please read The Living Dead: Switched Off, Zoned Out—The Shocking Truth About Office Life by David Bolchover.) Abraham Maslow would say that in the absence of a stronger sense of shared purpose, self-interest (i.e., anything from survival to self-actualization) prevails in decision making.

“As a leader you have to be a self-starter on purpose. Finding meaning where none is apparent. You can’t inspire unless you are inspired. So, if you are not inspired it’s your duty as a leader to discover it or disappear.”

These might be hard words to hear, but are very poignant in our time. I believe we are moving toward a critical mass of change in how we view the role of business in our society. No longer just a money-making machine, the corporation is the primary organizing structure of society, with vast responsibilities to its employees, customers, the environment, and the greater society. A key driver in this shift is the gradual recognition that humans need purpose beyond profit to feel engaged and motivated, and to give their highest talents to anyone else.

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Periodic Table of Visual Methods

One of our passions is finding the best ways to visualize complex ideas like a competitive environment or a strategy. We use a wide variety of graphic and visualization methods to help clients literally “see” where they’re at and where they’re heading.

Well, the folks over at the Visual Literacy Program in Europe have put together what might be the best overview of visual methods I’ve ever seen. And it’s cleverly visualized as a Periodic Table to boot! After clicking on the table to load the interactive window, you can mouse over any of the boxes to see an example of that visualization method.

Periodic Table of Visual Methods

The Visual Literacy Program is an online program sponsored by several European universities to help students better understand and use graphic and visual methods to communicate their ideas more powerfully.

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Mission vs. Vision

I have often found myself in conversations with clients about the meaning and purpose of some of the most fundamental business terms — words like Mission, Vision, Strategy, and Values. It surprises me how often people on the same team have differing ideas about what these words mean, and how often I hear fuzzy thinking about these terms. The result can be significant mis-communication and mis-understandings about the direction of the organization. It is very hard to focus on what you cannot define.

I find that many leaders use mission and vision interchangeably, or think that the difference between them doesn’t matter much. Another related problem is mission and vision statements that are vague, lofty, or have little connection with the real work of the organization.

Let me suggest some definitions that have worked well and solve these problems. They are based on decades of strategy work with clients, as well as authors such as Collins & Porras (Built to Last), Steven Covey (Principle Centered Leadership), Peter Senge (The Fifth Discipline), and Kaplan & Norton (Strategy Maps). Even a dictionary can be amazingly helpful.

Strategy PyramidMission: Enduring purpose. The fundamental reason for the organization’s existence beyond just making money. It is a direction, a general heading, a perpetual guiding star on the horizon. It does not change over time. It is generally abstract and can never be achieved, only pursued. For example, for NASA: “advancing man’s capability to explore the heavens”.

Vision: A picture of a desired future that supports the mission, or an image of the future we seek to create. It is a specific destination that is concrete and achievable. A good one engages people–it reaches out and grabs them in the gut. It should be tangible, energizing, highly focused. There can be many visions over time that support the mission. The time scale is usually around 1 to 5 years. For example: “a man on the moon by the end of the ’60s”. Continue reading

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Practice of the Month: Evaluating Alignment

It’s common knowledge that for a team or organization to be effective it must be aligned around its Mission, Vision, Strategy, and Values. But how many of us actually take the time to inquire into how aligned we really are?

Our first Practice of the Month is all about looking at the state of alignment in your team or organization with a curious and open mind. As you talk to people you work with this month, engage them in conversation on these topics:

  • How would you define Mission, Vision, Strategy, and Values?
  • How confident do you feel that you understand and can articulate the Mission, Vision, Strategy, and Values of your team or organization?
  • What do you think the Mission, Vision, Strategy, and Values of your team or organization are?

Take notes as you discuss these question with people. When you get to the end of the month, look through your notes and see what themes you can identify. Are there basic differences in how people define these terms? How much variation is there in what people describe as the plans of the team or organization? How confident do people feel in their understanding?

You might consider sending out an email or memo summarizing your findings. It could be a valuable contribution to your organization to reflect the level of alignment that honestly exists today.

I’d love to hear your stories of what you learn!

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The Heat is On

The Heat is OnThis past month has brought more ominous warnings on the environment and the effects of global warming than ever before, and the calls for action are growing. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report on February 2nd with more than 2500 reserachers from 130 nations contributing. This is the most comprehensive overview of climate change yet, with a real potential impact on worldwide public policy. The IPCC says that it is now “very likely” — or at least a 90% probability — that rising temperatures are due to increased human-caused carbon emissions. Dire predictions and calls for action were also heard at the World Economic Forum in Davos, stating “in the last five years the situation has gone from bad to worse.” To make matters worse, this past winter has been the warmest winter in recorded history, and scientists are learning that the warmer winter is causing billions of dollars in crop damage.

The response has been swift and significant. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in the UK, Gordon Brown, soon expected to be the next Prime Minister after Tony Blair steps down, has publicly called for a “new world order” to combat the threat of climate change. The European Union is also imposing a ban on conventional light bulbs, replacing them with energy-saving bulbs within two years. Australia and Canada are taking similar steps.

These new developments point to accelerating trends that will affect all kinds of businesses in a myriad of ways. It’s growing more and more likely that there will be some kind of regulation of greenhouse gase emissions. There will be opportunities as well — from standing out from the competition with environmental responsibility to new products and technologies that help solve pieces of the problem.

How are you and your organization responding to the trends, threats, and opportunities presented by global warming issues?

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The Secret Power of Visioning

The SecretI just saw the new movie called The Secret. While there is a bit of hype that had me snickering a few times, its central theme really got me thinking. Called the Law of Attraction, it’s basically the idea that we can become and achieve much more if we dedicate ourselves wholeheartedly to a clear vision. We attract what we imagine. It’s Steven Covey’s second habit — begin with the end in mind — on steriods. As is often the case, the devil is in the details. The lives of phenomenal success described in the movie didn’t come about from doing a few visioning exercises or wishing for wealth and success. They came from doing a few things consistently, day after day:

  1. Seeing clearly and concretely what they wanted to become or accomplish in their mind’s eye.
  2. Growing their awareness of and ability to work with the subconscious thoughts and feelings that would sabotage their efforts.
  3. Fostering consistent dedication and wholehearted commitment to their vision.
  4. Living their vision by taking real, concrete actions toward making it their reality.

The movie tends to trivialize what it takes to create a life that becomes a work of art. It takes a great deal of maturity, skill, and perserverence — perhaps even fanaticism — to pull this off. Most of us seem to have some innate sense of what it takes — and live it out to some degree of success. But most of us also feel like we could do more with our lives.

Interestingly, this entire conversation can apply equally well on the level of a team or organization. Are there ways you, your team, or your organization could do a better job with these four activities?

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How Not To Do Visioning

dilbert-msg.gifA friend recently reminded me about a hilarious little web-based “game” called the Dilbert Mission Statement Generator. Of course, it wouldn’t be so funny if it weren’t for the fact that soooo many mission and vision statements out there read an awful lot like some of the stuff that this apparently mindless process generates. You know the ones — those vague, slightly inspiring, but wishy washy mission or vision statements framed on a wall, overlaying a sublime photo. At best, they are ignored. At worst, they suck the life out of a company’s visioning and planning efforts. This is the opposite of what Blue Summit stands for.

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