Many organizations not only lack a vision, but they are unaware of the power that a vision produces. And not so surprisingly, many individuals haven’t thought about their lifetime purpose; they don’t have a vision, either. Corporations make the common mistake of equating a mission statement with a vision, and individuals often believe that setting a goal is the same as defining a vision.
We have all seen organizations whose purpose we never quite understood; we know they are out there, in our community, doing something – but we’re not quite sure what. They may have a purpose we could learn about, but we’ve never taken the time to do so; it’s always been more effort than it was worth. If we got closer to these organizations, we might be surprised to learn that even some of their own members aren’t entirely sure of the organization’s goals; they only know about a specific project they are working on at that moment. Very often, these organizations end up slipping quietly away; they lose their momentum, they lose their funding, and finally, the organization is gone, with no one really noticing much.
So is vision really that important? Chances are these organizations never had well-defined vision statements to help clarify and communicate their purpose. Developing these key elements is certainly very crucial to the success of any community initiative. A vision exceeds importance. It is vital. We either imagine our own destiny, or we live out someone else’s creation. That’s the choice. A vision is like a lighthouse which illuminates rather than limits, gives direction rather than destination. Almost all successful individuals, organizations, and community groups have one thing in common: the power and depth of their vision. A positive, meaningful vision of the future supported by compelling goals provides purpose and direction in the present. A vision is not something that happens by accident. It is purposefully created. Meaning flows from the act of any creation, and passion comes into our lives when we act congruently with our vision.
First of all, a vision is greater than ourselves. A vision may be eliminating world hunger, cleaning up the environment, or serving others. Vision is always about greatness. A vision expresses our values and what we hope to contribute. Vision is about creating a community group or organization whose members express their deepest held values about work, family, achievement, or community.
Vision transforms momentary strategies into a way of life. Vision engenders change. Vision is creating an ideal, preferred future with a grand purpose of greatness. It plays a core role in many activities ranging from career choices to family vacations to creating a better community life.
A community’s vision communicates what members or stakeholders believe are the ideal conditions for the community – how things would look if the issue important to each community member were perfectly addressed. This utopian dream is generally described by one or more phrases or vision statements, which are brief proclamations that convey the community’s dreams for the future. By developing a vision statement, the participating community members make the beliefs and governing principles of the group clear to the greater community.
The first step in producing a vision is to know what a vision is not. As stated above, it is a common misunderstanding to equate a mission statement with a vision statement. In fact, one of the most often-heard comments is: “But we already have a mission statement.”
The difference is vast. A mission statement comes from the head; a vision comes from the heart. A mission statement is a declaration of what the organization does if a business; its goals, its ranking, return on equity and net assets, increased profitability. But a vision cannot be expressed in numbers. Numbers are only a manifestation or consequence of a vision yet to be defined.
A vision is a consciously created fantasy of what we would ideally like the organization or community to be, a waking dream, and this idea is not new to many organizations. A vision statement is often another name for “guiding principles” or “core values.” What is new is that in the empowered community, it is the challenge of leadership to make sure each and every person is involved in creating the vision. The task of each person is to create his own grand vision and then attempt to integrate it into what other community members are seeing as their vision for the community.
Why is it important that a community working on SCD develop a vision statement? First of all, because it can help the community focus on what is really possible. Although stakeholders know what the group is trying to do to improve the community, it’s easy to lose sight of this when dealing with the day-to-day hassles that plague all people. The vision statement helps members remember what is ultimately important as they go about doing their daily work.
Second, the vision statement lets other individuals and organizations see a snapshot view of whom the community really is and what it wants to do – the community’s concern regarding its relationship with nature. When the vision statement is easily visible (for example, on the letterhead of your stationary), people get a sense of the community without having to work hard for the information. Then, those with common interests can take the time necessary to learn more. Clearly, this can be very helpful when a community group is recruiting other people and organizations to collaborate in its improvement effort.
Finally, vision statements are very helpful to community members who are focused and bound together in common purpose. Not only does the statement itself serve as a constant reminder of what is important to the community, the process of developing it allows people to see the community group as “theirs.” It’s common sense: people will believe in something more completely if they had a hand in developing it.
The SCD practitioner can take advantage of the many benefits of developing a vision statement:
- Presents a starting point to begin identifying community members’ core values;
- Draws people to common work;
- Articulates hope for a better future;
- Inspires community members to realize their dreams through positive, effective action; and
- Provides a basis for developing the other aspects of the action planning process: objectives, strategies, and achievements.
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