Developing a Vision and Strategy
The following post is adapted from my personal academic coursework.
Developing a Vision and Strategy
Kotter proposed an eight-stage process for creating major change. These eight stages are interrelated and often overlap with one another as organizations move through the change process. True success requires success at all stages and failure at any of them could be catastrophic for the entire change process. In considering the entirety of the process, Kotter’s third stage of change, developing a vision and strategy, serves as a useful milestone for change leaders because the remaining stages in the process hinge upon this one. In Habakkuk 2:2 (NKJV), the Lord said, “Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it.” Scripture makes it clear that vision precedes action. Developing a vision and strategy identifies what the change is and how to implement it.
Developing a Vision
Kotter described vision as “a picture of the future with some implicit or explicit commentary on why people should strive to create that future.” Building upon this, Bialik and Merhav suggested that a vision not only present “an optimal image or the organization’s future,” but also engender a “creative suspense... …between the present state of affairs and the future.” An effective vision portrays an ideal version of the way things could be which members of the organization long to experience. Krug et al. described the relationship between vision and creative suspense this way: “An effective vision articulates discrepancies between the status quo and an idealized future for the group, and thus motivates followers to pursue actions in order to achieve that attractive future image.” Kotter also noted that a vision should be imaginable, desirable, and feasible. In other words, the vision is something that the people can picture, hope for, and ultimately achieve.
Vision and change are closely related. Without change, a portrayal of the future is merely a forecast. Krug et al. noted that vision is important to change because it reduces uncertainty and provides guidance for the future. Kotter similarly stated that vision clarifies direction, motivates action, and coordinates effort. These benefits of vision help organizations of all sizes achieve results. Kodila-Tedika, and Khalifa studied countries’ economic plans and found that even at a national level, “the adoption of a long-term vision has a statistically significant positive association with economic development.” Vision makes a huge difference in the outcomes of organizations’ change efforts. This is because of vision’s “potential to break through all the forces that support the status quo and to encourage the kind of dramatic shifts found in successful transformation.”
Developing a Strategy
Kotter noted that vision is part of “a larger system that also includes strategy, plans, and budgets.” These factors make a vision feasible. Lysek et al. explained that if vision is where the organization wants to go, then strategy explains the plan for getting there. Kotter explained that “strategy provides both a logic and a first level of detail to show how a vision can be accomplished.” Strategy is the road map which leads the organization to its intended destination.
A Road to Nowhere
Politics demonstrates the importance of vision and strategy to change. Many citizens in the United States have grown frustrated with its political landscape. In fairness, there is much with which to be frustrated, regardless of one’s political persuasion. However, the lack of vision for the country’s future is among the most annoying aspects of American politics. The great leaders throughout American history, political and otherwise, have always had vision. They have been able to talk about the future of the country in such a way that inspires the average American to take an active role in achieving it. The Founders had a vision; they wanted “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to [themselves] and [their] Posterity.” Abraham Lincoln had a vision; he stated that “this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” A century later, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a vision; his dream was that his children would “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” President Reagan also had a vision; his echoed John Winthrop’s sermon about the “shining city on a hill.”
For several reasons, there is no longer a compelling vision for this country’s future in the public discourse. There have been attempts and campaign slogans, but no unifying national vision. Perhaps the nation is too polarized for a common vision and those days are gone for good. Maybe Americans have grown too independent for a national vision. However, it might instead be that the country is desperate for strong leadership. What America really needs is a leader who sees this country’s potential and can again unite its citizens to work toward the 21st century realization of “a more perfect Union,” a “nation under God,” in which character counts more than demographics and America remains a peaceful and prosperous “shining city on a hill.”
Bialik, G. & Merhav, O. (2020). Identity or identical? Schools vision statements comparative content analysis: The Israeli case. Leadership and Policy in Schools, 19(3), 444-461. https://doi.org/10.1080/15700763.2019.1585549
King, M. L. (1963). I have a dream. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/i-have-dream-address-delivered-march-washington-jobs-and-freedom
Kodila-Tedika, O. & Khalifa, S. (2020). Long-term vision and economic development. World Economy 43(11), 3088-3102. https://doi.org/10.1111/twec.12982
Kotter, J. P. (2012). Leading change. Harvard Business Review Press.
Krug, H., Schummer, S. E., & Otto, K. (2020). How to capture leader’s vision articulation? Development and validation of the vision articulation questionnaire (VAW). Journal of Theoretical Social Psychology, 4(3), 135-154. https://doi.org/10.1002/jts5.67
Lincoln, A. (1863). The Gettysburg address. Abraham Lincoln Online. http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/gettysburg.htm
Lysek, M., Palmhager, J., & Danilovic, M. (2019). Re-envisioning innovation: From vision to strategy to plan and back again. International Journal of Action Research, 15(1), 5-24. https://doi.org/10.3224/ijar.v15i1.02
Reagan, R. W. (1989). Farewell address to the nation. Ronald Reagan Presidential Library & Museum. https://www.reaganlibrary.gov/archives/speech/farewell-address-nation
The Holy Bible, New King James Version (1982). Thomas Nelson, Inc.
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