On crafting a vision statement

September 10, 2010

So often I find myself writing to a client, or to group that I’m working with, and find that I’ve really written a short essay that deserves broader readership. That happened this morning, when a coaching client, director of a non-profit social service organization, wrote to me:

I really want to work on “the vision thing”.  But if I can’t articulate a vision for [our organization], I don’t know how I can get the staff or the Board to buy in.

I told him that this conclusion certainly didn’t follow for me, and then offered the following explanation:

Even if you don’t have a comprehensive and clear vision, you might understand the need for one, and might have in mind the outlines of a process that can move towards a vision.  In fact, if you had a very precise vision, that could become a problem itself, as you might be coming into the process without enough openness to what arises in the organization.

How is a “vision” formed?  I believe that it typically reflects several things (which I’m not listing in any particular order):

  • The character of your organization.  If you’re spiritually based, that faith might be central.  Whatever values and beliefs characterize the organization will figure strongly into the vision.
  • The needs of your community.  Your focus is on service, and a sense of the needs around you will help guide your vision of what needs to be done.
  • The capabilities of your organization, and of your staff.  Your organization is not a job training school, not a hospital or clinic, but a cluster of very specific constructive programs.  Those are clearly the starting point, and the ultimate vision will probably have something in common with them.
  • An understanding of social and economic change.  Energy and health care are dominant issues today, but were not so visible even a decade ago.  Connectivity via the internet, electronic privacy, and other new concerns are coming to the forefront.  An assessment of how they might impact your target populations will guide your visioning process.
  • Your current organizational governance community.  A vision that will guide you needs to be something that most, if not all, of your Board members and staff can in some way embrace.  That may require some education and work, but a vision that is too far from what these people can embrace will not be a vision that can actively guide your organization.

What’s the process?  I’d suggest that it begin by reviewing and updating this list, then taking account of which factors in each item are most significant.  There may, for example, be many changes in society that don’t and perhaps won’t impact your role in the community, and your program.  Then, you’ll need a process to review these, and put together a draft list of key points … which might get refined into a more polished statement.

Your role is not to articulate the conclusion, but to motivate people to join in the process, to identify resources that can help you and you organization, to keep the process moving, and to connect the various groups that may be working independently (or at cross purposes).

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