Visioning is one of the few organizational development practices that has survived the last few decades, despite all the compelling reasons to simply manage to the quarterly financials and keep close to the customer. Hopefully it will stick around. The consequences of having a weak vision are myriad and subtle. And the discipline of visioning is needed at all levels of the organization. If leaders abandon it for the corporation, no one will use it for departments, regions, markets, or projects either.

Too Rich

Visioning is dominated by the necessity of looking beyond the immediate and the well known. It requires the courage to explore a vast array of possibilities and find one that will anchor and motivate a broad, durable set of actions. It requires someone who knows the current situation intimately but is not limited by what has been well explored and refined. Visioning requires extrapolating forward from the current skills and capabilities, while still working backwards from heretofore unimagined possibilities.


Visioning often requires identifying the essential dilemmas that will define the company’s future. It might be the tension between customization vs. process efficiency, or rapid growth vs. sustaining a unique culture and processes. Naming the dilemma – and labeling it as a dilemma – may be critical to engaging the organization in the right conversations.  Some of the most powerful visions are the ones that focus on the most common dilemma in an industry and drive for a novel and breakthrough resolution.  Companies like Ikea, Dell, or Southwest Airlines pushed through dilemmas that their competitors failed to recognize as the essential challenge of their industry.


The vision of the organization has a very real purpose:  to guide the setting of priorities and allocation of resources throughout the organization.  Decision makers at all levels must see the vision as a robust and reliable guide to a thousand smaller decisions.   But the organization is not completely plastic, immediately responsive to a new vision.   Organizations have their own momentum and unconscious integrity. A new vision is often effectively absorbed and neutralized by the informal networks that give the organization its organic nature.

This appreciation for the Complexity created by the organization puts a vision statement in a new perspective. It is naive to treat it as an edit to which everyone will be immediately responsive. A new vision statement has to percolate through the organization. And it will probably not survive unchanged. It has to find hooks in the culture. It needs to be translated into the symbols and stories that will give it meaning. And people need to integrate it into their own identity and place in the organization.