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Visioning Processes: Preparing for the Future

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Although I have been involved in visioning and strategic management processes for years, in my work with the Department of Defense, I learned some new techniques about how visioning can help an organization to more effectively be prepared for whatever the future brings…

There are really three major categories of visioning processes that organizations can find useful. Most visioning processes are combinations of one or more of them.

One of these processes leads to the publishing of a "vision" statement for a company... you know the kinds of statements we all read in a company's annual report that talks about what the company wants to become in the next several years... like "the leader in transportation products and services..." to borrow an example from General Motors. These statements should be used to help communicate where the company is going to the company's key stakeholders; its customers, employees, suppliers, unions, Wall Street analysts, stockholders and so on.

Incorporation of Visioning Process
in Organizational Systems

Another version of this process is intended to build a consensus with key stakeholders by producing a shared vision of the organization. This provides a process that enables stakeholder "buy in." It also helps make the vision a reality especially in large complex industries like ours, where whole organizational systems of suppliers, unions, dealers and manufacturing facilities come together to create the ultimate product and service for the customer. But, it is also a technique that can enable learning by the senior leadership together, as a team.

The third set of visioning processes produce scenarios, like Asimov, and can help an organization to think through alternative futures, and their roles in those futures.

Visioning is a planning tool to learn and think about events that could happen in the future before they occur.

There are many different kinds of visioning processes and they lead to many different kinds of results, depending on what you need from the process. Some organizations actually do look out twenty years or more to try and see the diversity of contingencies they have to be prepared for. Some people use scenario planning as a tool to gain consensus or "get to yes," especially to talk about where their company should go and what the company should stand for. Some companies use the process to determine what their beliefs and values are and what they should become in the future if different from the present.

Knowing vs. Learning

Every CEO in industry should be engaged in this kind of thinking with his leadership team.

My friends at the Pentagon say that the really important part of visioning is the process of opening our eyes and minds to things we ordinarily wouldn't consider... literally, to "think the unthinkable." It is the ultimate learning and planning tool.

With all the work trying to design and implement "learning organizations," in the Peter Senge sense, the truth is that many corporations' cultures do not value learning or the knowledge it brings. Most of these organizations have not developed processes to share and use new knowledge acquired. Visioning can assist in this process, but only if senior leadership is willing to learn and use that knowledge. This requires an attitude that there is a need for new knowledge; that, we don't have all the answers. And, sometimes, that's very difficult for executives to accept. It's what Senge's group calls getting out of "knowing" and into "learning."

This is exactly where the Pentagon was right after World War II, when America believed it knew all the answers and before we lost our first war in Korea, and then, a second, in Vietnam.

Thinking the Unthinkable | Next

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