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 7C Framework
Clear. A powerful vision is clear — it elicits a picture in your head of what it would be like to achieve it. That’s what “vision” means — seeing clearly. It renders transparent the essence of what you want to achieve, removing confusion and obscuration in the process. A clear vision uses direct, straightforward language and meaningful visuals to convey a sense of the desired future state that is easy for people to understand and internalize.
Concrete. A good vision addresses realities and actual instances rather than abstractions; particulars as opposed to generalities. It takes the reified concept of a desired future state and transforms it into something tangible, real, and solid. A concrete vision uses descriptive, present-tense language and visuals to convey a believable future reality.
Compelling. A powerful vision is also compelling — it grabs people in the gut and brings out their passion for what they’re doing. It draws energy from the tension between being achievable and being a stretch. People want what it offers, and are willing to sign up for it. It has the potential to touch people deeply and create meaning in people’s lives. A compelling vision embraces people’s passion and communicates it in an inspiring way.
Creative. A good vision is bold — definitely not business as usual — because it challenges how the organization sees itself and transforms it into what you want it to become. Ask yourself: will it create more value for the organization, either by helping it be more competitive, or by developing new businesses or markets? A creative vision addresses change, transformation, and new ways of thinking about your business.
Consensus. A good vision also represents consensus — it’s shared by the people responsible for making it happen. Consensus happens when everyone feels that they are included. Even when a vision is held by one strong leader, it must be held and communicated in a way that allows people to feel they are a part of it. The most powerful visions happen when an entire group or organization evolves their vision together in an inclusive, open process.
Communicated. Powerful visions are communicated throughout the organization so that everyone understands and can articulate where they are going. Usually multiple channels are necessary, and can include verbal, written, visual, behavioral, and system communications. Leadership must “walk the talk”, regularly communicating and reinforcing the vision. Visionary organizations embody their visions to the point that they “live the vision”.
Committed. For a vision to realize results, people throughout the organization must be willing to voluntarily invest their time and resources to making it a reality. Leadership must support the vision, and time and resources must be made available to people to make things happen that will move them to the new future state.
Evaluating Your Vision
The 7C framework gives us a powerful tool for evaluating the vision of any individual, group, or organization. We can give each of the seven aspects a score on a scale of 0 to 100% based on the level of quality we perceive in that area. A radar diagram (also called a spider diagram) gives us a visual representation of our evaluation, easily pointing out the strong and weak areas of our efforts. By becoming more aware of the strengths and weaknesses in our visioning, we can work toward developing, communicating, and living the most powerful vision we are capable of. I hope these ideas and the 7C framework can help you in your quest to create purpose and direction for your organization.