Do you remember that one thing you were excited about taking on when you started your current job or your last job? I can still recall, as if it were yesterday, how excited I was about accepting a position as an Executive Director and sharing my vision for the organization. I was so proud of myself with all of my detailed prep work and research I did on the organization’s history. I really wanted to show my new Board of Directors that I did my due diligence, that I was a strong leader and I was ready to execute my ideas for the future.
Well, it’s amusing how quickly reality smacks you in the face. That wonderful and thoughtful vision I had for the organization went straight out of the window after my first 30 days on the job! Actually, after the first week. Why, you may ask? It’s simple. I soon realized that you cannot create a vision for the future of an organization without FIRST experiencing it, living it and being in IT! I am sure there are many of you, who are or have been in my position and are nodding at this statement. While I had great ideas, I was not able to truly convey my vision until I had spent some time being a part of the organization. It was critical that I got to know the members, the partners and most importantly, the history of the organization. My board wanted a vision after 4 months, but in hindsight, I should have requested a few more months to have a better insight into every aspect of the organization’s infrastructure. But I pulled together what I felt, at the time, was a realistic vision that would help advance the work of the organization.
The three-year vision I created was realistic and basically good, but looking back it needed stronger outcomes, fine-tuned goals and more concrete objectives. I should have spoken to more partners and other organizations doing similar work. I am big believer of learning from my mistakes and learning from the mistakes of others. So, I want to share with you some of the tools I used in developing my vision, strategies i picked up later to refine the vision and also some things that I realized after leaving that I could have done differently to ensure a more solid vision. This was a huge learning experience and I am thankful for all of the tools and resources I picked up along my journey. I hope you also find them useful.
My number one and most important strategy is DO YOUR HOMEWORK and do it well! All of the other strategies below, fall under this first one. Learn your organization’s history, talk to key individuals, review past organizational materials, etc.
Research the history of the organization in detail. Read old annual reports, program narratives from proposals, past strategic plans, vision plans from your predecessor(s), and any and all publications produced by the organization. Having a detailed picture of the organization’s past will help you tremendously as you outline your vision. What worked. What didn’t work. A missed opportunity. A new opportunity. These are the elements you want to keep in mind when preparing your vision. But also be mindful of what currently exists. For example, if the organization has a new strategic plan, your vision should align with this plan. Your vision should not be so far out in left field that it does not compliment what is already in place.
Communicate with key individuals, including board members, partners and staff. Draw up a list of questions and set up calls or meetings to have one-on-one conversations with these individuals. Talking to people who have been involved with the organization is one of the best ways to help you learn it from the inside out. They not only possess historical knowledge but they tend to bring really good ideas that can help move the organization forward. I have found this is especially true of staff (those on the inside) and partners (those on the outside with an objective view). This strategy also shows your staff, board and others that you value their input.
Study the field. Research the work of like-minded organizations or those that focus on the same issues as your organization. This information may spark ideas for some of the things you would like to do with your organization. Also, read up on on the new strategies or methods that are currently being used in your field. The best part of being new is that you have the opportunity to be creative and bring forth a fresh perspective. Generally, this is also what your board, members and partners want to see from you.
Seek help when needed. Putting together a vision for an organization is no easy feat, especially if this is your first time creating one. Talk to other colleagues and ask them about strategies they used to develop their vision. Ask if you can see a copy of their vision. Assure them that you are not looking to replicate their vision, but rather make sure you are on the right track with yours. I am a visual person and have found that if I have a guide or see an example of what I am trying to accomplish, I have a much better idea on how I want to move forward.
Create a vision board of the things you would like to accomplish while in your position. Some of us may think of doing this on a personal level, but it works just as well in the workplace. After you have gathered all of your information and research, it may helpful for you to see an actual picture or concept of your proposed vision. You can do it the old fashioned way by cutting images out of magazines and gluing them to poster board/cork board or you can use Pinterest to create a board online, then print it out. Whatever you choose, the benefit of the vision board is to not only have an image to focus on, but the ability to swap out images or concepts as you develop and fine tune your vision. Moving a vision from paper and written words to images allows you to draw inspiration and see your vision in plain view. Too often, we put together a report or strategic plan, then put it in a file folder. Never to be seen again. Having your vision or plan out in the open, reminds you daily of what you want to accomplish.
Be true to who you are and what you bring to the table. When developing your vision, focus on your strengths and unique skills. Of course you want to take on a challenge and demonstrate you are a competent leader, but don’t bite off more than you can chew. Be cautious on taking on something that you realistically cannot accomplish. Create a vision that is feasible and realistic while addressing areas that will sustain the organization and take it to the next level.
Best of luck! If you need additional help with the visioning process, you can contact me to set up a consultation.