Setting a Vision

We have a series of internal classes at Optoro called Managing at Optoro. It’s a great way for us to be able to promote talent into a leadership role and make sure they have the tools they need to be successful.

The class I teach is called “Setting a Vision” and it’s something I think about a lot.

I’m teaching the class later today. I generally hold an interactive discussion session, but I thought I might share some of my notes.

Vision = context = framing

Why is a vision important? I think vision is the essence of leadership. It is fundamentally leadership, and one of the most important things a leader can do. Vision provides direction, and without it teams wander from place to place, effectively going nowhere.

Imagine you get on the road and start driving. You take whatever roads look interesting, and find fun along the way. But you’re not going somewhere.

Vision provides context to the team on why this, why now, why not anything else. Context helps the team be successful, solve problems better, put themselves in the big picture. Vision frames decisions made and decisions to make. We’re able to move towards our vision because we have one.

Connectedness, big picture, understanding

When you have multiple teams working together to achieve something, a clear vision gives them a shared identity and shared purpose. Teams understand their part in the organization. They can connect their actions to the whole.

We work better and produce better things when we understand how our piece fits. We can all help each other better when we can see where we’re going.

Setting vision

Think about where you want to be. Imagine your team, your company, yourself in 2, 3, 5, and 10 years. You don’t have to do all of them, but the more you can do the more complete and connected a vision you’ll have. What are you doing then? What have you accomplished? What tools are you using, or products have you built, or challenges have you overcome? Don’t worry about how - just where you want to be. Now that you have an idea, is it crazy? Good! Crazy goals can be motivating. But is it impossible? Maybe dial it back a little.

Write it down. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but paint the picture of the future as best you can. It can be in words, pictures, whatever - just get it in a format you can share with others.

Then share your vision with your team. Start with someone you trust to be honest and helpful. Listen, change your vision. Refine it. Then share it with everyone.

Good vision is not 100% definite, accepting of change

It’s hubris to assume a leader can see the future perfectly. Therefore we must accept that our visions are imperfect, incomplete, and subject to change. That doesn’t give us an excuse not to set one, but rather we should remain humble and accept that new information can change our course. We should always look for opportunities to learn more and revise our vision, and we should share that truth with our teams so they understand that we are human too and realistic and pragmatic.

Sharing vision: do it all the time.

Repeat yourself over and over. Always connect what we’re doing now to where we’re going. Take every opportunity to bring your vision back to the table and use it to reframe what we’re doing to support it. Repeating feels silly but most people don’t really hear you until they’ve heard it many, many times. Take the opportunity!

We all go through hard times, slogs, crunch time, etc. Understanding that this is part of a bigger thing helps people work through it. Remind them all the time.

My teams sometimes during standup will play a little game. Instead of just sharing what’s up today (and blockers, etc), team members will share what they’re doing and then take a moment to connect the dots between their work and our company’s goals. A simple for example: “I’m building this feature so that we can take it to market and make money.” It doesn’t take much, but it can help connect the dots.

Include your team

Finally, remember to include your team in your process to set and adjust your vision as it changes. Demonstrate that you are also capable of change. Listen to your team and your team will listen to you.

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