Many visioning processes begin with a guided visualization, where participants close their eyes and listen as they are guided by a facilitator through a series of images and questions. The key is to imagine we have arrived at a specified, fabulous point in the future – where all of our dreams have been realized. It is exactly the way we want it. It is about what we are for – not what we are against. And for most of us, our experience of being in this desired future reality is vivid and visceral. (Note: a few of us experience “visualizations” slightly differently – some of us don’t see pictures in our minds at all. Instead, we see words, or experience a set of sensations.) The experience of imagining that we have arrived at a point in the future – that we are there, right now – can unleash a whole new set of innovative, creative ideas. Click here for a list of 14 questions or elements to weave into your visualization script.
5 Qualities of a great organizational vision
Quick: think of an organization or business you know and love. Maybe it’s one you actually work or volunteer at. What’s their vision for success? In other words, what’s the specific statement or narrative that they use to describe wild, vivid, success in, say, ten or twenty years? Chances are they have one – but you don’t know what it is of the top of your head, even if you work there. Or they have one – but it’s so broad as to be virtually meaningless. Maybe it’s just a vague platitude, like “an end to world hunger.” True, it’s not easy to come up with a clear, powerful vision. But the process itself can be a wonderfully creative experience. And once developed, an effective vision can be a rich source of fuel and inspiration for years to come.
Truly great organizational visions tend to have 5 key qualities. And, no surprise – – these are the same qualities of effective social change messages of all kinds:
- Visual: This seems like a no-brainer, but visions should, in fact, involve imagery – vivid pictures, told in words, that literally stimulate the visual cortex of listeners. “In 30 years we will have achieved world peace” is certainly aspirational, but it’s not visual.
- Motivating: Effective visions are emotionally compelling, and deeply motivating. They speak to the heart and gut – not just the head. They inspire people to act, to keep going when the going is tough, to dig down a little deeper because with that extra push, the beauty and power of that collective vision feels within reach
- Achievable: Powerful visions are like big “stretch goals” – their achievement may be well out of our comfort zone, it may call for great acts of courage and perseverance – but it is actually possible to get there. They are, in the words of Ari Weinsweig, “strategically sound.”
- Positive: Effective visions are stated in the positive – what we are FOR, not what we’re AGAINST. That’s easier said than done for many social change organizations whose orientation has been focused on stopping oppression or negative environmental and economic development.
- “Spreadable”: Like any good, ‘sticky’ story, effective visions can be repeated, spread like a happy virus from one team member to another, and beyond. If they are too long, boring, or conceptual (versus vivid and grounded in tangible imagery and action), we can be pretty certain they will sit on shelves gathering dust. John Kotter, author of “Leading Change”, suggests that it should be possible to convey a great vision in no more than 5 minutes. That way, they can be communicated as a regular, cherished practice across all levels of the organization. His research suggests that most companies under-communicate their visions by a factor of 10.
The power of organizational vision
In 1961, US President John F. Kennedy challenged his nation to, literally, reach for the moon. Like all great leaders, Kennedy understood that an effective vision will unleash a level of power, alignment and motivation that can change the world. This is the start of a series of ideas and tools to help you with your own visioning process.
In 1961, US President John F. Kennedy challenged his nation to, literally, reach for the moon:
“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth.”
In a mere seven years, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first humans on the planet to set foot on the moon’s surface. Dozens more followed. Like all great leaders, Kennedy understood that an effective vision will unleash a level of power, alignment and motivation that can change the world.
I’m in the midst of supporting a visioning process for a large civil rights organization. The team has a phenomenal track record, and is now ready to take their work to the next level. Their questions and insights have encouraged me to reflect even more deeply on my own approach to visioning – so organizational visioning is going to be the focus of my next few posts.
The power of Testimonials
Testimonials are one of the most powerful tools in an organization or consultant’s promotional toolbox. Knowing this, I’ve gladly written many short endorsements for others over the years. Yet so many of us feel too shy, too busy or just never get around to ensuring we have a steady supply of these first-person endorsements of our own work…
When your organization is searching for consultant, where’s the first place you look? For most of us, we turn first to our trusted colleagues and peers for ‘inside’ stories and perspectives of people we may be considering. But what if a potential recruit doesn’t overlap with our professional networks? In addition to reviewing that recruit’s own CV and bio, many of us then turn to testimonials from past clients or employees who may have similar needs to our own.
That’s why testimonials are one of the most powerful tools in an organization or consultant’s promotional toolbox. Knowing this, I’ve gladly written many short endorsements for others over the years. Yet so many of us feel too shy, too busy or just never get around to ensuring we have a steady supply of these first-person endorsements of our own work. And I was one of the worst offenders! Finally, shamed into action when a close colleague recently pointed out that I have no client testimonials on either my website or my blog, I got into gear. Over the course of a couple of weeks, I asked a number of past and current clients if they’d be willing to write a few sentences about their experience of my work. To my astonishment, every single person I asked readily agreed. So, finally, I’ve taken the minimal step of posting those testimonials on a separate page on my blog, and put together a few tips for others to consider:
- Just ask. Ask nicely, of course. Clarify that there’s “no pressure” and that you won’t be offended if they don’t respond, don’t have time or don’t feel comfortable – and be sure you mean it!
- Make it easy. I took the liberty of dashing a few short bullets to each client outlining the work I’ve done for them (I have a number of long term repeat clients, so it can be easy to lose track). Several used those points as a springboard to their own short paragraphs.
- Develop a system. Make it easy for yourself, as well, by ensuring that, once you’ve determined that a client is pleased with the work, you follow your final invoice and/or client evaluation with a request for a short testimonial – while it’s fresh on their minds and yours. Some consultants offer short on-line evaluation surveys, using tools like SurveyMonkey, and include a request for a short endorsement right in the survey.
- Share your testimonials! Make sure you publish and use them well. For now, I’ve simply added a single page with all the testimonials I’ve gathered so far in one place. But the fact is, this is a bare minimum. It’s far more effective to ‘scatter’ your testimonials throughout your site, blog or through other promotional material so that prospective clients, donors or allies have ready access to the good things others have said about your work.
So gather up those testimonials, people! And check this out: I just stumbled across another fantastic and far more thorough article on using testimonials for marketing, by John Sternal. It’s full of tips on how to gather and use testimonials for small businesses, but just as applicable for many not-for-profits and other organizations.