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  • Writer's pictureL. Darryl Armstrong

… without a vision we will simply perish

Whether an organization, community or a person without a vision we will simply perish

Saturday, August 4,2007

No vision and you perish; No ideal, and you’re lost; Your heart must ever cherish Some faith at any cost. Some hope, some dream to cling to, Some rainbow in the sky, Some melody to sing to, Some service that is high. -Harriet Du Autermont

For the past 30-years I have worked with a variety of organizations, communities, and individuals to help them in their strategic planning processes.

There is nothing magical or mystical about strategic planning. Strategic planning is simply a management tool.

As with any management tool, it has specific purposes: to help an organization do a better job – to focus its energy, to ensure that members of the organization are working toward the same goals, and to assess and adjust the organization’s direction in response to a changing environment.

In short, strategic planning is a disciplined effort to produce fundamental decisions and actions that shape and guide what an organization is, what it does, and why it does it, with a focus on the future.

Simply, a strategic plan is built on consensus and is an agreed upon way to move forward.

One of the first and one of the most critical parts of developing an effective strategic plan of action is to understand the importance of having a vision. A vision is what you want to be “when you grow up” and what it is you want to accomplish as you walk your path.  A vision helps you define what it is you want to be like and look like when you arrive at your final destination.

A vision is important whether you are a small firm of two people, a chamber of nonprofit association or a community of 30,000 diverse people.

A vision is developed only after there is significant conversation among the various parties that must create it and then go about doing those tasks necessary to make it a reality.

When you begin the process of strategic planning, visioning comes after this dialogue and after there is an understanding of the need for change and how difficult change can be.

What is our preferred future?

“When we are tired enough of doing the same old thing or our pain is intense enough… we will seek change.” Dr. L. Darryl Armstrong, ARMSTRONG and Associates

When visioning change, we must ask ourselves, “What is our preferred future?”

To effectively do this we must be sure to draw on the beliefs, mission, and environment of the organization; describe what we want to see in the future; being very specific to the organization; be positive and inspiring; not assume that the system will have the same framework as it does today because change is always underway; be open to dramatic modifications to current the organization, or the current methodology, teaching techniques and facilities.

What are the key components for a vision?

“Be sure to choose what you believe and know why you believe it, because if you don’t choose your beliefs, you may be certain that some belief, and probably not a very creditable one, will choose you.” Robertson Davies, The Deptford Trilogy‘

This means is that a person should embrace ideas and beliefs that sit well with him or her at the present time, while keeping in mind that as awareness about reality expands with the advent of new experiences, so must one’s concept of reality change accordingly.

Therefore our vision must encompass our belief system. Our beliefs must meet our organizational goals, as well as community goals; be a statement of our values; be a public and visible declaration of our expected outcomes; be precise and practical; guide the actions of all involved; reflect the knowledge, philosophy and actions of all that participate; and be a key component of our strategic planning.

These are examples of vision statements:

  1. The Bluegrass Community & Technical College District will be the premier provider of educational opportunity and a leading force for social and economic vitality in the region.

  2. The Kentucky New Era will be the first choice for reliable news and information in the Pennyrile region.

Benefits of Visioning

The process and outcomes of visioning may seem vague and superfluous. However, the long-term benefits are substantial.


  1. Breaks us out of boundary thinking.

  2. Provides continuity and avoids the stutter effect of planning fits and starts.

  3. Identifies direction and purpose.

  4. Alerts stakeholders to needed change.

  5. Promotes interest and commitment.

  6. Promotes laser-like focus.

  7. Encourages openness to unique and creative solutions.

  8. Encourages and builds confidence.

  9. Builds loyalty through involvement (ownership).

  10. Results in efficiency and productivity.

Vision Killers

As we engage in the visioning process, we must be alert to the following vision killers:

  1. Tradition

  2. Fear of ridicule

  3. Stereotypes of people, conditions, roles and governing councils

  4. Complacency of some stakeholders

  5. Fatigued leaders

  6. Short-term thinking

  7. “Naysayers”

Strategic planning doesn’t attempt to make future decisions

Within our dreams and aspirations we find our opportunities. -Sue Atchley Ebaugh

Strategic planning is about fundamental decisions and actions, but it does not attempt to make future decisions. Strategic planning involves anticipating the future environment, but the decisions are made in the present. This means that over time, the organization must stay abreast of changes in order to make the best decisions it can at any given point – it must manage, as well as plan, strategically.

Strategic planning is not a substitute for leadership

Strategic planning has also been described as a tool – but it is not a substitute for the exercise of judgment by leadership. Ultimately, the leaders of any enterprise need to sit back and ask, and answer, “What are the most important issues to respond to?” and “How shall we respond?” Just as the hammer doesn’t create the bookshelf, so the data analysis and decision-making tools of strategic planning do not make the organization work – they can only support the intuition, reasoning skills, and judgment that people bring to their organization.

Strategic planning doesn’t usually flow smoothly

Finally, strategic planning, though described as disciplined, does not typically flow smoothly from one step to the next. It is a creative process, and the fresh insight arrived at today might very well alter the decision made yesterday. Inevitably the processes moves forward and back several times before arriving at the final set of decisions. Therefore, no one should be surprised if the process feels less like a comfortable trip on a commuter train, but rather like a ride on a roller coaster. Yet even roller coaster cars arrive at their destination, as long as they stay on track!

The time is now

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”   — Margaret Mead

There has been much discussion over the years by organizations and communities about the need to create a vision and mission for themselves. Many times organizations go into retreats and hammer out such a plan and then forget about it or get tired of trying to implement it. In reality, only a small group of people will ever make a strategic plan happen. There is nothing “magical” or “mystical” about finding an organization’s path. It simply requires committed leadership that is willing to involve all the key stakeholders and a focused dedication.

Until next time.

Dr. Darryl

L. Darryl Armstrong

ARMSTRONG and Associates

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