Which Came First: the Vision or the Strategy?

Posted on July 1st, 2015

Few would be unfamiliar with the age-old paradox, “Which came first…the chicken or the egg?” There can be positions taken (sometimes quite entrenched ones) on each side of this circular argument. The outcome, however, has little bearing on the current or future state of “chickendom.”

Conversely, in the business/corporate sphere a similar argument relative to whether Vision precedes Strategy or vice versa has an outcome with decided consequence (current and future) on #StrategicPlanning effectiveness and impact potential. Too many times in too many companies #StrategicPlanning supplants, supersedes, overshadows, or happens in the absence or in lieu of Vision. Among the causes for this are:

1. Lack of #VisionaryLeadership

Vision is not something that comes naturally to organizations. Organizations tend to settle into comfortable “nests” and feel their way with a determined objective to experience as little turbulence and distress as possible. They tend to resist or even reject changes and challenges to their comfort zones.

Only sound leadership can entice the organization to move away from the safety of familiar surroundings into the dangers and unknowns of “vision.” Vision is critical to organizational growth and survival. Therefore, so is sound leadership. #VisionaryLeaders are ones who are able to perceive where their organizations need to move to for survival and/or competitiveness and to convincingly and clearly communicate the imperative to move, the required direction of movement and the specific destination (to the degree necessary to promote movement).

Companies lacking #VisionaryLeadership constantly change directions, but with no concurrent consensus on where “there” is. (Children on a long trip often don’t know where “there” is, but are so determined to reach it that they demand a status update every 20 minutes.)

2. Errant Belief that Strategy Equals Vision

Unfortunately, many leaders believe that strategy and vision are synonymous. This couldn’t be further from true. Vision is the destination, the future state that an organization seeks. It articulates a specific set of organization attributes that must be achieved in a specific time frame (both of course with some margin for variance). Strategy is the path to that destination.

There can be multiple Strategies for a single Vision. In addition to #VisionaryLeaders then, transformative organizations also require sound #StrategicLeadership. #StrategicLeaders have the capability to choose and configure the optimal Strategy while driving cross-functional synergies, coordination and collaboration.

Treating Strategy as Vision wastes the energy of the journey while never arriving; like a perpetual labor, but never a birth. Companies lacking #StrategicLeadership eventually burn out, scorching those associated with them as well.

3. Lack of #TransformationalLeadership

Even where #VisionaryLeadership and #StrategicLeadership are sound, every organization faces challenges during transformation that require the presence of a separate leadership trait, #TransformationalLeadership. #TransformationalLeaders are those with capabilities to respond to challenges during the transformation journey, especially unforeseen ones. They fully understand the many:one relationship of Strategy:Vision and are less wed to a particular Strategy than are purely #StrategicLeaders, enabling them to identify and deploy alternatives quickly and efficiently with minimal compromise (if any) to Vision.

#TransformationalLeaders are also typically process-oriented, disciplined and culture-sensitive. The “culture” in this case is #CorporateCulture which enables, empowers and encourages people in organizations to accept and embrace vision; adopt standards, procedures, practices, and guidelines; and embody beliefs, values and mores. It is transformed as Vision unfolds. Without #CultureTransformation organizations continue to act and perform as they did prior to change, even while boasting of transformation.

Companies without #TransformationlLeadership behave inconsistently, deciding by convenience which set of practices and identities to display, confusing external partners and frustrating internal ones.

The paradox, then, is resolved: Vision must lead Strategy. There is no other way to avoid organizational wandering, flailing and volatility.