Is Strategic Visioning a Waste of Time? 6 Ways to Overcome Resistance To It


Your group needs strategic planning. But they either refuse or are very resistant to doing the visioning part of strategic planning. YOU may know that visioning is essential as a foundational piece of strategic planning. So you are doing the group a disservice if you “give in” to their resistance to it. So what can you do to help them understand its importance and to respond positively to this starting process of any strategic plan?

Why are some resistant?

Individuals and groups can be resistant for many reasons. Society rewards us for action/doing, so why waste time “day-dreaming” or thinking about impossible futures? As well, some individuals in government and corporate settings in particular are not given permission to think strategically. Visioning can seem like it is “touchy feely”, ending up with abstract “feel good” concepts that seem so far away they are hard to imagine.

Let’s get on the same page about strategic planning

I view strategic planning to be a multi-part process that STARTS with the big picture and ENDS with some very specific measurables and accountabilities. People feel really good about the latter part of planning (measurables and accountability) but actions rarely get executed unless they are attached to a big picture. There can be 4-5 big picture steps that help ensure strategic plans are actually implemented.

Step 1 of the Big Picture

In Technology of Participation (ToP) Strategic Planning, we often start out helping the group get the big picture of the internal and external environment using some type of scanning approach, i.e. Environmental Scanning,

Step 2 of the Big Picture

Then the very next step is the visioning step. MY definition of visioning is defining future desired results.

Step 3 of the Big Picture

The visioning step is followed by having a deep, usually difficult conversation about what stops a group moving toward this inspirational future. Some people call this part strategic issues. In the ToP Planning model we call it the Contradictions Workshop and it really is root cause analysis.

Step 4 of the Big Picture

The next part of the process is working on the strategy, actions that will 1) work simultaneously with obstacles and contradictions and 2) move you toward the ideal future. In essence, strategy is only strategy if it does at least these two things. Once some high level strategies are in place, you can finally move to tactical thinking which involves setting out 1 year measurable accomplishments and quarterly action plans. I believe the ToP strategic planning steps create a very robust, implementable plan. I’ve seen organizations from all sectors be successful using this model. Even when I do not use this model, I never skip the visioning step. Read below for the why.

How to overcome the resistance

Now let’s go back to the original question: What happens when the group doesn’t know, understand or want to explore the importance of visioning? I found 6 things to be helpful when this occurs:

#1 Visually share the entire strategic planning process and the “why” of each step. Make sure everyone understands the entire process and remind them that actions that have no foundation in a big picture will be meaningless at best and unexecuted at worst. I almost always post all of the steps of the process on a sticky wall or other visual (PowerPoint slides if it’s a large group). I often have a one page handout of the entire process so that the group can see that we will get to actions but there are several steps that proceed that.

#2 Affirm that every group has people who prefer different types of thinking in the planning process. I remind them that some people are excellent visionary thinkers and say, “If that is not your strength, trust that your colleagues will help you with this”. I remind them there are contradictional thinkers who can articulate everything that can go wrong in getting to the future ideal state. I also tell them about strategic thinkers and tactical thinkers. At the beginning of every step in the planning process I say…

“Ah, here is where we really get to benefit from those of you who are great (visionary) thinkers. Not everyone will be able to do this well. But it is only a matter of time before you too will get good at it. Just know that your preferred competency in other thinking styles will be coming later. We will be relying on you in future steps of the process.”

#3 Remind the group that creating a foundation to the plan is to know at all times where you are going. You can have all the objectives and KPI’s (key performance indicators) you want, but they absolutely will not make any sense unless they are clearly grounded in the vision. So it is like author Stephen Covey of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People said, “Begin with the end in mind”. Another quote from a business acumen book that relates to this is, “Objectives without any motivation will never see the light of day”.

#4 Sometimes you just need to change the language. If people are resistant to the word “visioning”, you could for example call visioning “The End Game” (Thanks to Singaporean colleague Jiejun for this phrase). It’s really about “what” will be in place in 3 years that will help the group or organization/community move steadily forward. The tactics or objectives/KPIs are about the “how”. So it doesn’t really matter what you call the visioning piece. You could call it “Strategic Goals”. It just needs to be very aspirational, motivational and imaginal. By imaginal I mean you can imagine it, you can see it, you can hear it. Here are some examples of visionary components that come out of many of our ToP Strategic Planning processes:

  • Engaged, Respectful Leadership
  • Beautiful, Enjoyable Community Amenities
  • Vibrant, Attractive Downtown
  • Long-term, Invested and Motivated Team
  • Progressive Trusted Experts
  • Clear, Productive and Nimble structure

#5 Create multiple vision “statements”, not just one for public consumption. Sometimes people think visioning is only done to make a public statement. You often see a mission and vision statement on websites. If a team or organization already has a mission statement, it may not be beneficial to do a vision statement. What I have found from the ToP planning process is that it is better to create 5-9 short vision phrases that are composed of adjectives and nouns. You can see this from the bulleted examples in Point #4 above. It is not about creating a publicly acceptable vision statement. Rather it’s about creating some motivational images that are so strong and so desired that people will “move mountains” to realize these vision components.

#6 Use an alternative to guided visualization. Finally, if your group is resisting the process because it’s too “touchy feely”, you can also avoid a guided visualization and instead use a short script like this…

“Imagine it’s 3 years from now. There have been a lot of media articles about your success as an organization. Take a few minutes to write down what you think the headlines of these articles are. What are people raving about? What are you really proud of?”

Then get them in pairs or triads to share their ideas. Have them submit 5-6 ideas that they can all agree or live with. Create a grouping of similar ideas from the groups until you have 5-7 vision themes. Get the group to name them with using the adjective, adjective, noun format.

My question to you: When do you experience resistance? And, what do you do to help people overcome their resistance to visioning?


Blog: What’s the Strategic in Strategic Planning & Thinking

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Barbara MacKay

Barbara loves “everything facilitation”. She thinks BIG! She loves working with other facilitators around the globe to create transformational results for client groups. She loves teaching others how to do that. She loves presenting at global facilitator conferences. She loves certifying new professional facilitators. If you also love what process facilitation can do for the world, connect with her – virtually or in person. She believes facilitation processes, used well, will provide the roadmap to a more just and sustainable world.

1 Comment

  1. Susan Detwiler on May 29, 2019 at 5:23 pm

    Some people respond well to ‘scientific evidence.’ For them, it helps me to give a statement or two about how research has shown that beginning with positive thoughts about the future opens peoples’ minds making them more receptive to new ideas. If necessary, I can direct them to work by Richard Boyatzis.

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