Is Your Vision Made to Stick?

Over the next few months our district will meet with the community to cast vision for the future. This is an exciting time to dream big and look beyond past challenges. The visioning process has always captured my attention with the hope and optimism that accompany it. One thing is clear after experiencing the process multiple times in multiple settings, it’s hard to make your vision stick.

As I consider the path forward with our district and community, I am reminded of Andy Stanley’s suggestions for establishing and maintaining a compelling vision. Having long been a fan of his leadership advice and an avid listener of his leadership podcast, I recently enjoyed his leadership classic, Making Vision Stick. The simplicity within this book can be powerful if applied consistently to a visioning process.

For Stanley, a successful vision is established and maintained as a function of effective leadership. According to Stanley (2007), “It is the leader’s responsibility to ensure that people understand and embrace the vision of the organization.” Stanley outlined five “simple” actions to make your vision stick: (1) State the vision simply,  (2) Cast the vision convincingly, (3) Repeat the vision regularly, (4) Celebrate the vision systematically, and (5) Embrace the vision personally.

Simplicity Matters
Around the time Stanley’s book was published, my school was in the midst of a visioning process. After obtaining significant amounts of stakeholder feedback, a few options for our vision were crafted. Ultimately, the T.I.G.E.R.S. vision won the day due to its simplicity and ease of recall. With that simple acronym, our school was able to focus our improvement efforts, revisit collective commitments and pursue innovation over a 9 year span.

As my current district and community casts a vision for the future, it will be critical to consider what is at stake. According to Stanley (2007), “It’s the what’s at stake issue that grabs people’s hearts. Only a clear explanation of the problem will cause people to sit up and say something must be done!” Over the next few months there will be around 30 community meetings designed to engage with the community to chart the course for our district. I’m hopeful these sessions will move us towards consensus about next steps as a community and district, paving the way to deliver the education our students need in our changing world.

Casting Vision
Stanley (2007) advocated for accurately defining the problem, solution, and necessity for immediate action. Without those steps accounted for, Stanley cautions any leader to move forward with a vision, adding that it simply won’t stick. One of the best podcasts on casting vision was from September 2015, entitled Vision is a Team Sport. It’s a must listen in my opinion. Stanley (2015) encouraged everyone in an organization to do three simple things to support their vision: (1) Start where you are, (2) Use what you can, and (3) Do what you can. Starting where you are requires stakeholder inquiry. Ask, why are we here and listen deeply. Next, using what you can is just that, identifying and intentionally using things we can that don’t cost us anything. Finally, what does it mean to do what you can? It means that everyone in your organization has a role in casting vision. The most powerful statement from that podcast was this gem, “What did I do today to cast vision for my organization?”

Assuming you have successfully casted a vision, how will you keep it alive? How will you keep it fresh and maintain clarity of its meaning? Repetition is the key. Although it may be tempting to assume everyone knows or buys into a vision over time, that simply isn’t true and opens the door to organizational drift. Once established, your vision should be a frequent part of your climate, culture, hiring practices, and of course… celebrations.

Celebration Matters
Our focus determines our impact. Whether we look for and celebrate the good or recognize progress largely determines organizational success. According to Stanley (2007),

What’s celebrated is repeated. The behaviors that are celebrated are repeated. The decisions that are celebrated are repeated. The values that are celebrated are repeated. If you intentionally or unintentionally celebrate something that is in conflict with your vision, the vision won’t stick. Celebrations trump motivational speeches every time.

Before closing out his chapter on why celebration matters, Stanley reminded readers that celebrations (or stories) are already taking place in your organization. By celebrating actions that support the vision, an organization is able to tell their story, champion their vision, and transform their organization.

Make it Personal
Visions that endure, the kinds that transform lives and organizations, are personally owned by personnel in the organization. While we would like to do everything possible in education, it’s our shared vision that guides collective action. According to Stanley (2007), “Vision, not people’s random ideas, should determine programming.” Finally, if you truly want to make your vision stick you must become intolerant. Defending the standard and pursuing the vision will require “a healthy intolerance for those things that have the potential to impede your progress.”

Check out Stanley’s book on vision or his leadership podcast to learn more about proven practices that support effective visioning. In the end, we all want our vision to stick. The real question is whether we are willing to do the intentional work required to support ongoing buy-in and clarity of meaning.

Stanley, A. (2007). Making vision stick. Harper Collins.