When Leaders create a Vision they struggle because they think they need to describe what the organizations should look like in 5-10 years from now. Of course they can’t because the future is unpredictable. I would like to suggest a different approach to a Vision, that is not based on creating a future image but an alternative ideal version of the present. I will use a metaphor of a house remake to explain the step-by-step approach and end with take aways and key learnings for organizations.
10 steps to create a transformation out of a compelling vision – lets take the example of an inherited house
Whenever I think about Vision, Purpose and Strategy I can easily get confused with What is What. But then I remember the process of transforming my husbands parental home in a rural community in Upper Austria: we inherited a charming, but old-fashioned, dark and stuffed house with a functional garden. Over the last couple of years we transformed it into the light, comfortable and spacious home it is right now. Although it is the same house we created is a different world.
Step by step we manifested our Vision that guided us in the process of transformation. The true transformation was not the revamped house but the process of creating a different and better version of the current reality in our mind and heart. We didn’t need to know the detailed result of how the place should LOOK but rather how we would like it to make us and others FEEL. The Vision was an emotional Vision rather than a pictured Vision.
Let me walk you through the process step by step and lets see what we can take away from this.
1. Committing to a substantial transformation
We had 2 options: we could either opt for a few cosmetic home improvements like new cushions, carpets and lamps and smaller projects or go for a substantial transformation of the house and garden. We were aware of the fact, that the second option would cost a lot of time, money and attention, nevertheless we committed to it. We didn’t want to compromise and live in other people’s vision.
2. Defining the purpose
We made a difference between the basic purpose and the present purpose of the house. The core purpose is the same as for every house: to give shelter and protection for people to live in. But the present purpose was changing over time: in the 1950s, when it was build, the house’s purpose was to host a family with 3 kids an a grandmother. Later, when the kids had moved out it was the home for an aging couple and a then a widow living on her own. The house adapted according to the needs.
The present purpose of the house is to serve ourselves as a part-time home-base and recreational rural space for ourselves, family and friends, in addition to the basic purpose of giving shelter and protection.
3. Facing reality: what is given, what can be changed, what are our resources?
A given was, that we would stay within the boundaries of the current house. We didn’t have the wish and resources to rebuild the house from scratch. We decided to invest only money we have and avoid bank loans.
4. Creating a compelling Vision of an alternative reality
Instead of dreaming about the future we asked ourselves a few questions that described an alternative, ideal present state of the house. We were not interested in imagining how the house would maybe look like in 5-10 years, but what was the sense of life (Lebensgefühl), we wanted to created.
The purpose of our Vision was not to create a future to live into, but a compelling and inspiring place to live and act from. We created an ideal alternative of the present situation.
We asked ourselves a few compelling questions:
- How do we want to feel in our home? And how should guests feel?
- What is really important to us when it comes to living?
- What are our 5-10 career plans and lifestyle preferences and how can the house support this best?
- What are new technologies for homes we could take into account?
- How are we going the use the house?
- Who are our stakeholders (neighbours) and how do we want them to feel about our home and garden? how can we include the resources and be in exchange with our eco-system?
We created the Vision of a home, that is comfortable, stylish and easy to maintain and too clean. We wanted to use natural materials and high-quality and sustainable equipments. The house should be equipped for flexible use and to host many people at the same time. It should also provide an office space. The feeling within the house should be spacious, light and inviting and qualitative.
When we looked at the house as it was, we saw a very crowded and outdated house, worn-out furniture and very dark walls. But our Vision was so compelling and inspiring that it gave us the energy to get started. We went from room to room and imagined and different reality, a new feeling and started to act from this possibility.
5. Defining Values / Principles / Criteria
In order to help ourselves make decisions faster and safer, we defined criteria we took into account in each and every decision. No matter if we talked about a new floor, a sofa or the kitchen, we applied the same filter – or frame.
- Flexible use
- Easy to maintain
- In line with our life style
- Beautiful to look at
- Substantial but affordable
- No compromising
- Transparent towards the street and neighbors, making our community a better place
The creation of the strong vision helped us to make each of the many many decisions we had to take over the process: which walls to put down, the type of floor, keeping the old functional kitchen or buying a new one. As we like to walk barefoot so we changed a cold and dark stone floor of into a light, soft, warm wooden floor.
6. Cleaning the house
The next step was to radically clean the house of everything we didn’t need. Other than looking at every single item, we went through the house and chose a few items we wanted to keep for practicality or sentimental value. The rest was free to go and it was about 95% of the stuff. We offered it to friends, family and the community. It had to go away, even if it was functioning. Almost all the furniture, no compromises.
7. Find the right partners and enroll them in our Vision
Now it was time to find the partners, who would effectively work on the manifestation of our Vision: a Vision that was an emotional Vision rather than a clear picture of the result. We had to rely on a lot of different experts and craftsmen to make the changes happen. We needed to find right people, enroll them into our Vision so they could taste and feel it, orchestrate them as they had to work hand-in-hand. Then we had to trust them and let them do their work.
8. Macro Changes: Rebuilding structures
In every transformation comes the time when you rebuild some of the structures. It is the tough part, the expensive part, the nerve wrecking part, but also the part that creates new spaces: tearing down walls, transforming windows into doors that lead from the kitchen to the garden. We recreated the bathroom into one big room, changing almost all floors, building a new kitchen, even tough the old one was functional but not responding with the open and light spirit we had imagined.
The garden was fully revamped too, the thuja went away and english roses came in, for their capacity to flourish from April to November and spread wonderful fragrance.
The backside of the house was damp, we had to dry it up, which was the most expensive part: digging off the little hill behind the house. There was no wow-effect, but it had to be done: basic infrastructure improvements.
Because of money restrictions we had to decide what to do in this first round of rebuilding and what to postpone: we postponed the new roof, the old was still workable but sooner or later its time would come. Other things like changing the oil-heating into a Pellets powered heating was implemented only this year. It was part of our “sustainability” vision, and of our step-by-step approach.
8. Micro-Changes: within the structures
“Small” changes was the nice part: buying the furniture and making the house cosy and comfortable with lights, fabrics, candles and decoration. Experimenting with wall-papers and fancy carpets.
9. Continuous improvements
Over the years of living and using the house, many changes and improvements have been made and are still ongoing. We changed the function of rooms, replaced the last remaining old side boards with new ones and asked our guests for suggestions. They would say things like “wonderful bathroom, even better if there was more light” and so we would improve this.
We felt extremely comfortable from day one and we are still very happy with every single decision we took in the beginning. We were guided by our Vision and it helped us to make expensive and irreversible decisions lightly. We created a garden that inspires our neighbors and people stop to smell the flowers. We started to cultivate vegetables, fruits, berries, herbs and salads, so we can nurture ourselves and guests and exchange for eggs and honey with our community.
We are still in the process of big and small investments, according to our financial resources. The substantial investments are paying off, we have reduced the running costs of energy, we have reactivated the well and use ground water for the garden. We have bought a piece of land from a farmer and increased the size of the garden and the possibilities for further growth.
10. Cultivating a garden
What surprised me most is the fact, that I discovered my passion for gardening. A whole new Universe opened up and while our original Vision strongly pointed to the creation of the house itself. I came to understand, that an original Vision is a hypothesis, a starting point, an energizer to get started into the unknown. The challenge is to keep looking and learning and expanding rather than getting attached to the Vision you created in the past.
Creating a transformative Vision for organizations
What I learned from that process for organizations was the following:
- Vision leads to transformation, when it is strong enough to touch peoples emotions. Emotions deliver the motivation to move and the energy to change.
- The job of a Leadership team is to create and connect with a shared Vision within themselves. Speaking from that space they enroll, inspire and energize their co-workers, the ones that effectively implement it, to connect and contribute to it. Leaders will continuously speak and embody this Vision as a new narrative about the organization.
- Vision does not work if it is a “wish for the future” but when it becomes a possible alternative reality you can relate to in the now. Vision’s purpose is to create the energy and impulse for present transformation. We have no power over the past or the future, but we can shape the present.
- The transformation happens, when a community creates a “clear enough” picture of an ideal alternative reality it can connect with mentally and emotionally. You need to be able to imagine something in the now within ourselves, even if it takes years and years to manifest in the external world step by step.
- A Vision is not a fixed thing, the ending point of a 5-10 years plan, but a starting point to get us going in the now. We will find out more about the future and create new versions of our Vision as we go. What stays is the underlying emotion and purpose the Vision is grounded on.
- The process of creating a transformative Vision in organizations is quite similar to our house process. We go step by step, taking into account what we know and don’t know.
- There are 2 basic Visions in organizations: one points inward and one points outward. Inward means: what kind of organization do we want to create for ourselves and our co-workers? Outward points towards partners, customers and “the world”: what role do we want to play? How do we want “the world” make feel about us? How would we like to relate and interact? What impact do we want to create.