Vision statement provides road map to the future

NONPROFITS

November 15, 1993|By LESTER A. PICKER

The art of creating an organizational vision is receiving increasing attention today, whether in the for-profit or nonprofit environment. For years in this column I've advocated using a vision statement to complement an organization's statement of mission.

An organizational vision provides direction and helps guide decision-making. Combined with the strong foundation of a mission statement, a vision statement provides a road map to the future.

A colleague recently introduced me to an excellent resource on the topic of organizational visions, which rekindled thoughts on its importance. The 30-minute videotape, part of a three-video series available from ChartHouse International Learning Corp. (Burnsville, Minn.: [800] 328-3789), is entitled "Discovering The Future: The Power of Vision" by futurist and author Joel Barker.

This video is a superbly done motivational device which empowers people to clearly understand the critical role an organizational vision plays in its future success. The video is set in a variety of countries, including the United States, Greece and Germany. It places the viewer in such a diverse set of conditions that, at first, one wonders how they can be effectively woven together. But, weave it together Barker, indeed, does.

Traveling from the antiquity of the Parthenon in Greece to therealities of a Harlem middle school, Barker helps viewers to develop and apply the concept of vision to their personal and professional lives. At one point, standing near psychiatrist and philosopher Viktor Frankl's dormitory at Auschwitz, he quotes his observation on vision. "It is a peculiarity of man that he can only live by looking to the future and this is his salvation in even the most difficult moments of his existence." Ditto for nonprofit organizations.

According to Barker, organizational visions are leader-initiated and supported by a team of enablers which he refers to as the vision community. In a nonprofit, the vision community must include the board of directors and senior executives, but with significant input from various constituents. Locally, the Maryland State Highway Administration has used "The Power of Vision" in its long-standing total quality-management efforts. The highway folks who bring us those cute (?) signs that apologize for construction delays are, as it turns out, responding to their customers.

"The Barker video was very useful," reports Marisa Lynch, quality resource manager for the Highway Administration. "He talks about the importance of paradigm shifts. When you are undergoing a cultural transformation, those shifts are critical. The video helped us to understand the issue of resistance to change."

What distinguishes the Highway Administration group's vision from so many other bureaucracies is its steadfast commitment to people. "Ours is a very people-based vision," reports Deputy Administrator Liz Homer. "We focus on the people who work here and the people we serve."

While a good statement of vision must be positive and inspiring, Barker also makes a convincing argument for the need to add enough detail and comprehensiveness to make it actionable. As Barker says, "Vision without action is merely a dream."

An organizational vision is a powerful tool in the executive arsenal when times get tough. It can help people get beyond their present feelings of powerlessness to craft a strategy which willjump-start them back in the right direction.

One frustration with Barker's video is that it does not provide enough detail for those who want to move beyond the inspiring words to actually creating that powerful organizational vision. Nor does it differentiate between the broad concept of vision as a process and lifestyle, and the process of creating the statement which reflects that lifestyle to the outside world.

I admit to being shocked to hear that the price of this video and its facilitator's guide was a nonprofit budget-busting $895, with no discount for charities. Of course, the for-profit users read like a Who's Who of America's Fortune 500, ranging from Aetna to Xerox. The high price tag will mean that this fine work will be unavailable to all but larger nonprofits. However, associations of nonprofits or corporate sponsors may be a way for smaller organizations to get a shot at using it.

(Lester A. Picker is a philanthropy consultant. Write to him at 71 Bathon Circle, Elkton, Md., 21921; [410] 392-3160.)

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