See Beyond What You Can See
The vision statement is the most important component of your AE firm’s strategic plan. Every strategic and tactical decision is hung from that overarching goal. Yet, most leadership teams struggle mightily to picture the future. Some get hung up on the definition of vision—I’ve seen my fair share of mission/vision stew—while others immediately zero in on initiatives—ready, fire, aim! And that’s not to mention the strategic planning teams that wordsmith the living daylights out of any and every phrase uttered—it’s Shakespeare or bust.
It seems like it would be a relatively straight-forward task. All you need to do is paint an attractive vision of the future, one that inspires you and helps your firm come through on its purpose better than any of its rivals, and start learning your way toward it. But it just doesn’t seem to come naturally.
Why is that?
While it’s not accurate to generalize that AE professionals as a group have personality traits that make it difficult for them to imagine a vision for their firms, there are some factors related to individual preferences and professional training that might influence the way some of us approach envisioning the future, such as:
Analytical Thinking: This industry is well-stocked with individuals who possess analytical thinking skills, which are essential for problem-solving and detailed technical work. While this analytical mindset is invaluable in this profession, it can lead to a focus on the present and the immediate challenges, making it difficult to envision long-term possibilities.
Risk Aversion: The work architects and engineers engage in on a daily basis often involves minimizing risks and ensuring safety and reliability. This risk-averse mindset runs counter to making bold declarations that involve a high degree of uncertainty.
Concrete Thinking: Engineers, in particular, are trained to work with concrete data, facts, and numbers. But being visionary requires engaging with abstract concepts and uncertainties, which is often not in their comfort zones.
Technical Expertise: Architects and engineers are deeply specialized in their technical areas. It’s what they went to school to learn. More often than not, they have limited exposure to broader business concepts and trends, making it difficult to see the big picture or imagine what the future could look like for their companies.
Focus on Practicality: Technically skilled professionals tend to prioritize practical solutions and efficiency. While practicality is crucial for day-to-day operations, it may lead to a preference for short-term, tangible goals over long-term, visionary ones.
Communication Skills: Technical experts often find it challenging to communicate their ideas and visions effectively, especially if they are more comfortable with technical jargon than with persuasive or inspirational language.
But the ability to imagine a vision does not solely hinge on these traits and preferences. In fact, if you embrace a broader perspective and enhance your skill set, you will begin seeing beyond what you can see. Here are some effective ways to build your visioning muscles:
Scenario Planning: Imagine different futures for your firm. Consider various factors such as market trends, technological advancements, regulatory changes, and evolving client needs.
Backcasting: Start with your desired future state (e.g., where you want the firm to be in five or ten years) and work backward to identify the steps and milestones needed to reach that vision. This approach helps break down long-term goals into actionable short-term plans. Fight the urge to create the roadmap before you know your destination.
Brainstorming: Work with your strategic planning team to generate creative ideas about the firm’s future. Encourage open and free-flowing discussions without immediately evaluating or critiquing ideas. Instead, focus on improving them.
Visualization: Use visualization techniques (e.g., mind maps, flow charts, Gantt charts, SWOT/TOWS matrices, etc.) to mentally picture the future of your firm. Imagine the firm’s operations, client relationships, and achievements in vivid detail.
Trend Analysis: Study industry trends, technological advancements, and market forecasts—in short, bring the outside world in. Use your analysis to inform your vision.
Environmental Scanning: Regularly scan the external environment for changes, disruptions, or emerging opportunities. This ongoing monitoring helps you adapt your vision to evolving circumstances.
Cross-Functional Collaboration: Collaborate with the professionals who lead the non-technical areas of your firm, including marketing, finance, and strategy. Their different perspectives can lead to a more holistic and realistic vision.
Competitor Analysis: Study your competitors to understand their strategies and market positioning. Identify gaps or areas where your firm can differentiate itself and create a unique vision.
Client Feedback: Interview your clients to gain insights into their future needs and expectations—and how they envision your role in their future.
Scenario Stress Testing: Once you draft a vision statement, stress test it by considering what could make it fail. This technique will help you build resilience into your firm’s vision.
Continuous Learning: Stay up-to-date with industry publications, attend conferences, and participate in professional development activities. The more informed you become, the more capable you’ll be of creating a compelling, forward-thinking vision.
You may not consider yourself a visionary, but it doesn’t mean you could never become one.
Would you like help creating an inspiring vision for your firm? Call Mark Goodale at 508.254.3914 or send an email to [email protected].