A company once asked me to develop a technology strategy aligned with their long-term business strategy. When I asked about their business strategy, I was told, “It’s very simple. Grow 15% per year.”
That’s so awe-inspiring that it almost takes your breath away, doesn’t it? And of course, I had a clear picture of where they were headed. They were going to grow in any way possible. I guessed that could mean they might be selling insurance, breeding horses, or robbing banks. Anything to make a buck, right? Of course, that wasn’t true, but no one would know that based upon their stated strategy. And it probably wouldn’t surprise you to hear that when I spoke individually with each executive within the organization, each had a different view of their direction and how to achieve it.
We have long recognized that leaders must have a vision. After all, if you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you get there?
Leadership vision is more than just a prophetic glimpse of the future. It is a big picture view that is clear not only to the leader but to all stakeholders as well. It enables them to connect the dots from the present to the future. It helps them to see how the puzzle pieces fit together. It inspires and generates hope.
Obviously, great advantage can be gained by correctly predicting future game-changing opportunities. But who could have predicted an Uber, an Airbnb, or even the juggernaut that Amazon has become? And what lies ahead for the future of your industry?
Daniel Burrus has written extensively on the “Anticipatory Organization™” 1 Burrus emphasizes what he calls the “science of certainty” to help leaders know what’s next, develop opportunities, shape the future and accelerate success. He advises distinguishing between Hard Trends and Soft Trends. Burrus defines a Hard Trend as “a projection based on measurable, tangible, and fully predictable facts, events, or objects. It’s something that will happen; a future fact that cannot be changed.” 2 The exponential growth of networked machines and sensors all communicating with each other is a Hard Trend. There is no doubt that this will continue and increasingly add more data – and the potential for more intelligence – to every corner of your world. The aging of Baby Boomers is another Hard Trend. They certainly aren’t going to get any younger, and with that aging, other trends can be predicted – increased retirement, medical problems, etc. Strategy based on certainty (Hard Trends) has low risk and gives you the confidence to drive forward. Use your vision and innovation to determine how to get in front of these Hard Trends to leverage them to your advantage.
On the other hand, a Soft Trend is “a projection based on statistics that have the appearance of being tangible, fully predictable facts. It’s something that might happen. A future maybe. Soft Trends can be changed which means they provide a powerful vehicle to influence the future and can be capitalized on.”3 For example, the increasing difficulty of attracting and retaining talent is a Soft Trend. If desired, though, your company can buck this trend by creating an environment where top talent comes together to focus on actively reinventing your industry and creating transformational change. The acceptance of blockchain technology and the declining enrollment at colleges and universities4 are also Soft Trends with varying degrees of acceptance. Should your company take advantage of these? If so, how and when? Strategy based on uncertainty (Soft Trends) is higher risk and causes hesitation, but there can also be a greater payback.
In the past you might have been able to get away with a vision that was not clearly communicated to all stakeholders. After all, most decisions were made at the top. But we no longer have the luxury of time to run things up and down the chain of command. Today’s era demands speed and agility which require your entire team to understand the direction in which the company is heading and how they can help it get there.
Cameron Herald argues that “the reason companies spend so much time managing people, holding them accountable and running a permission-based system, is because nobody knows where they’re going.”5 Herald emphasizes the value of creating a Vivid Vision of what your company will look like three years into the future. “Describe your marketing department, IT, finance, sales, and operations. Describe your culture, what your employees are saying about you, and what the media is writing about you. Describe the details of every area in your business until you’ve exhausted all the goals that are hiding in the back of your mind.”6 Ideally you would even envision the metrics used to measure success. It is important, though, not to worry about “how” you will achieve this vision, only that it is going to happen. Communicate your vision to your team and trust them to make it become a reality. This will generate their buy-in, engagement, and innovation.
In the digital era, the value of leadership vision in guiding and motivating your team is more important than ever before. Simultaneously, the unpredictability of our times requires leaders to be more willing to revisit and adjust their picture of the future as needed.
1 – Burrus, Daniel. Anticipatory Organization. Greenleaf Book Group, 2017.
2 – Burrus, Daniel. “Improve Planning By Separating Hard Trends From Soft Trends.” Burrus Research, 12 May 2016, http://www.burrus.com/2014/02/improve-planning-by-separating-hard-trends-from-soft-trends/
4 – Fain, Paul. “Enrollment Slide Continues, at Slower Rate.” Inside Higher Ed, Inside Higher Ed, 20 Dec. 2017,
5 – Herold, Cameron. Vivid Vision: a Remarkable Tool for Aligning Your Business around a Shared Vision of the Future. Lioncrest Publishing, 2017. https://www.amazon.com/Vivid-Vision-Remarkable-Aligning-Business/dp/161961877X
About the Author:
Terry Bennett is a partner with Fortium Partners, a nationwide team of C-suite business executives (CIOs, CTOs, CISOs), each dedicated to technology leadership – reimagined. Fortium helps companies transform IT from a costly expense into a profitable investment. Terry is a strategically-minded difference maker who has successfully transformed IT departments into dynamic organizations that are proactive, business-focused, and intent on bringing a competitive advantage. His teams are recognized for achieving the highest levels of satisfaction from those they serve. He has achieved success in startup to turnaround to mature organizations, family-owned to Global 500 companies. Terry has a special passion for helping the C-suite transform their company to achieve the speed and agility needed for success in today’s world.