How to Craft a Compelling Vision When You're Staring at a Blank Page
Updated: Jul 28, 2020
“Would you tell me please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a great deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cheshire cat
“I don’t much care where - “ said Alice
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go”
- C.S. Lewis, Alice in Wonderland
The defining characteristic of a leader, regardless of your title, is if others are willing to follow you. And in order to do that, they need to know where you are going, and why.
We often head straight into setting an objective - something that’s clear and crisp and tangible. There’s some merit in conventional wisdom here. Goal setting is one of the most researched aspects of motivational psychology. There are decades' worth of studies to support setting objectives - it gives clarity and a sense of direction. The very act of setting a target can be inherently motivating for these reasons.
You’re probably familiar with doing this on an annual basis in organisations, quite possibly using an acronym to guide you. I suspect SMART is the most common here. And yes we want to have a direction that is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time bound.
But they’re missing something: the ‘why’. Why is this goal important in the first place? Why are you setting up a new till system, creating a digitally transformed and sustainably built restaurant, or introducing a pilot apprenticeship programme? What’s the impact of having these in place?
Objectives are a great starting point. They are helpful to make sure you can keep on track and measure how you’re doing. But a vision, to me, is a goal with a soul. How do we capture that essence, take it further and wrap up that meaning, motivation and purpose?
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
- Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Here are 5 tips and ideas to help you bring that to life:
1. Anchor your vision in a particular time frame and area of focus
Asking yourself ‘What’s my vision for my life?’ is so broad a question that it can be overwhelming and therefore paralysing to get started. Or - you end up with half a dozen different ideas spanning a range of timeframes, including everything from your relationship to finances and health.
Instead, get really specific around your scope. ‘What do I want my role to look like by the end of this year?’ or ‘What do I want my team to have achieved by 30 June, 2021’ are much stronger and more concrete in their focus. Once you’ve set the scene, you can paint a rich vision for that moment that you are working towards.
2. Add a ‘so that’ to existing objectives
If you already have objectives - and they are still relevant and meaningful to you - you need to add in the impact of your desired result.
You’re implementing a new till system so that your team members can process orders more quickly and speed up their service to your customers. So that you can capture better data that feeds into your ordering system and aids more accurate decision making by managers. So that you save time, money and shift day to day responsibilities to more meaningful activities, all in one swoop.
You need to get crystal clear on the ultimate benefit of the goal is and why it’s important.
If you’re struggling to find the real essence then consider using the ‘5 Whys’ approach; asking ‘why’ five times until you can get to the heart of what matters.
3. Get Creative
If you are struggling to get started, try tapping in to a more intuitive and creative approach. Striking images can help uncap a different part of your brain and go deeper - it’s a technique I love using with my clients. The key here is to move past literal associations and cliches. This isn’t about looking for groups of people if you work in HR or microchips, cables and networks if you work in IT.
Use your specific, anchored scope from step 1 and ask yourself that question as you take in a dozen or so images. Notice which ones stand out and draw your attention. Probe deeper and ask yourself, ‘What is it about this image that speaks to me? Why is it important?’
Is it about having a sense of fun, vibrancy and bringing joy to your everyday work? Having a stronger sense of connection? Perhaps you’re yearning to be entrepreneurial, innovative, pursuing what’s new and dynamic? What comes up for you on a more emotive level, that allows you to tap into your ‘so that’, ‘why’ and purpose?
4. Use All Your Senses
How will you know you’ve achieved this? Measures of success can often be hard to pin down - and what is easy to measure isn’t always what really matters. To capture what’s most important try out the following exercise:
If you were to wake up and your goal had been realised, how would you know?
What would look different?
What would you be hearing?
What would people be saying around you?
What would you be feeling? Physically and emotionally.
5. Consider Multiple Perspectives
Who are all the people affected by your goal? Your customers, team, different divisions within your organisation, the Board?
How are their experiences enhanced by what you’re doing? How does it make their lives easier or help financially with the bottom line? This helps you paint a rich picture of the range of ways that what you’re aiming for has an impact.
Now you have a starting point and prompts to delve deeper, I encourage you to take action. Use this opportunity to take hold of the rest of 2020 and beyond, thinking about what’s important to you and where you want to go.
Once you've set your've vision, it's time to map out how to bring this to life. Click here for three ways to do this.