Visioning: Getting Your Future On Paper

What is in store for your company’s future?  Do you even have an idea of what that might look like, or are you simply thrashing and worrying about today with the rest of the 75% of small businesses that do the same thing?

In my last post we went over two activates: the first was to discover the “why” behind the business, the story of how the business began.  This activity helped us to step back and recollect the reason we are knee deep in the day-to-day things we are involved in.  The second activity was called “The Four Helpfuls” and it helped us to pinpoint and agree on today’s core issues and decide how to tackle them.

Today we will introduce a new activity that will focus on the future of the business.   Not only will it push you to think about what you want the business to look like in the future, but it will also help you to determine the steps you will have to take to get there.  In order for a vision to be effective and actionable it needs to be

  • Inspiring: To all that will be involved in implementing it
  • Strategically Sound: That is, we actually have a decent shot at making it happen.
  • Documented. You really need to write your vision down to make it work.
  • Communicated. Not only do you have to document your vision but if you want it to be effective, you actually have to tell people about it too.

The following exercise will help you to meet all four of these requirements and maybe even have a little fun while you are doing it!
Activity #3: Blue Skywhite-clouds-and-blue-sky_1600x1200_78556

This activity is easy to do and it is a lot of fun for the enthusiastic business owner.  Our aim is to help you envision what you want your business to look like in the future and be specific about it.


Step 1: Pick the Time Frame
Eternal_clockMost organizational visions will be somewhere between two and ten years out. Five is usually a great place to start with your first visioning session. Once you have done this a few times, you can begin to use this activities for any project or timeline…even if it will only last a few days or weeks.


Step 2: Recall Past Achievements

Think about the projects that you are currently working on and list some of the past achievements that you have had that are similar to those. You don’t have to spend a lot of time thinking about this, it is simply meant to give you ideas and a positive attitude about the goals and challenges that you are about to write down.  The more positive you are, the more likely you are to succeed in your current and future endeavors.


Step 3: Rules for Creating the Vision

Give yourself somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes to complete the first draft. While writing a vision is hugely important, don’t let its perceived weight work against you, the results will be great regardless.

You can compose your vision in any style you like, but I want to emphasize the importance of putting the word “draft” on your document. Unless you’re writing a vision for a shift that starts in a few minutes, what you’re working on is going to get revised as you gather input from others.


A) Go for something greater than yourself.

The work here is about writing visions of greatness—if we don’t describe something special in the first draft, it’s not likely to get more inspiring later. Put something crazy out there—I like to think about John Kennedy’s call to go to the moon; that was out there. If the early draft isn’t kind of scaring you a bit then you probably haven’t pushed yourself hard enough.

B) Write from the heart.

A vision of greatness is about your passion and hopes for the future. If you’re the one writing it, it should be about what you believe in and what gets you out of bed in the morning.

C) Send yourself to the future.


This may sound dumb and unprofitable, but after working with many companies that have seen the fruits of it I can tell you that it’s essential—write as if you’ve achieved your goal already. For example, if you’re writing a vision of a wedding you’re catering this Saturday, you might start out with: “It’s a few minutes before midnight on Saturday night. The bride and groom just headed for home, the rest of the family members are lingering. Everyone is tired, but feeling really good about the event . . .” Again, this may seem strange, but it is critical. You are always writing “we have” or “we are,” not “we will.”

D) Write very quickly.

In my experience, the visions that we’ve written quickly have turned out the best. So start writing. Don’t wait until the stars are perfectly aligned.


Step 5: Write the First Draft

With all of those rules in mind, put down a vision draft. We usually start by writing: “It’s (fill in the date you’ve chosen above). I’m about to head out for the evening. There are so many great things that are going on that make it clear that our long-term vision has come to be the reality that we hoped and believed it would back when we wrote it.” Start listing what those things are and just keep writing until your time is up. After the bell has rung, put the draft aside for a few days and think on the things that you wrote.


erasingRead the statement from start to finish. My experience is that 80 or 90 percent of what I put down in that first scary rendition is right on track, but I can still work on both the content and the wording. As you read through it, keep in the back of your mind: Does it sound inspiring? Do you get excited when reading it?

Be Specific

How specific should you get in your writing? Very. Don’t just say, “I want to be wealthy,” give an actual salary number or savings amount. Use a sales number that’s meaningful rather than just saying, “I want high profits.” If it is a personal goal, say, “I’m spending two weeks traveling with my kids,” rather than, “I’m spending more time with my children.” If necessary you can have up to four redrafts, but that’s the most I’d recommend.

If you aren’t the sole decision-maker, it is critical to make sure that all of the key people are on board with the vision. Without that alignment, it’s almost impossible to move forward effectively. One technique we use is to set a topic and time frame for the vision and then have each of the partners in the group draft their own vision. Once that is done, we compare the written vision drafts, combine common themes and move forward.

Step 7: Get Input

This is when you ask people whose opinion you value to review the draft. The idea is to keep improving it and get clarity on what you mean and what it says. You can start by asking more supportive readers and then later move to more challenging ones. Remember, at this stage, most input can be helpful although you aren’t obligated to use everything that is offered up.

Step 8: Get Going!

It’s time to move forward and share the vision with everyone that will be involved in implementing it. Having a vision of greatness in writing certainly doesn’t guarantee success, nor does not having a written vision mean you’re doomed to failure. But a vision sets us up to work together toward a shared, inspiring, and positive picture of the future in your business.


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