What’s the deal with visions?
Do you know your organization’s vision statement? I bet it’s one of those long phrases that sounds great. “We imagine a world where we provide world-class service to every…” Hell, I bet your founders and executives felt great when they finally articulated it. But, would you bet every employee imagines the same thing in their heads when they picture the vision?
I’m certain they don’t. Unless your visions are visual, how could they? There must be something to that old cliché about pictures and words.
Interpreting someone else’s vision causes confusion at every level of an organization. It occurs at the corporate level.
It occurs at the portfolio, program or department level. And at the team level.
If three people struggle to visualize together, what hope is there for a group of 1,000?
Why we need more from vision. It needs to be tangible.
We should demand more from leaders when rhetoric around vision leaves us unsatisfied.
A vision should provide employees with a mental image of how the business will serve customers in the future. You just can’t expect everyone to share that image. A tangible vision goes further. It clarifies where, when and why we serve customers in those moments. It provides context.
Making your company’s vision statement more tangible will:
- Align everyone around the customer contexts you’ll focus on for the foreseeable future.
- Provide top-level input to help define your strategy. Strategy requires picking among competing paths to create an ideal world for your customer(s). Tangible visions bring the paths into focus.
- Create a benchmark to evaluate that strategy. Each year, you should stop to ask yourself, “Are we getting closer or further away from what’s depicted in the tangible vision?”
- Inspire employees. Design and product leaders, in particular, beg for the clarity a tangible vision provides. It gives them healthy constraints around how to define value from a customer and business perspective.
- Help customers understand whether they should invest in a long-term relationship with you. Why not show them where you’re going, rather than tell?
Making vision tangible. The lightbulb moment.
I lead the design team and serve on the leadership team for Hudl, a sports technology company based in Lincoln, Neb. In 2016, I was inspired to make our company’s vision clearer by making it tangible.
“Capture and bring value to every moment in sports by 2025.”
That’s our stated vision. But what does it mean to the customers receiving that value?
Brian Chesky and his team at Airbnb used storyboards featuring key moments from a variety of guest and host experiences to align their whole organization. Airbnb’s story establish a clear constraint: any conceivable product or service must provide a fair exchange of value within each frame of the storyboard. Brilliant.
Armed with the inspiring Airbnb story and facilitator’s guide, we began to make Hudl’s vision tangible.
“Project Titans” at Hudl — how we did it.
The following took place over 15 months from Q4 2016 to Q1 2018.
Step 1 — Get the founders on board.
I tend to ask for forgiveness, not permission. In this case, I stumbled into asking for permission from our founders and leadership team.
About every 18 months, I run a short workshop we call VisionQuest. Using different Gamestorming techniques, we think ahead 3, 5 or 10 years. These sessions with our leaders often generate quirky concepts. Once in a while we hit on something transformational. That’s exactly what happened at the end of 2016 when we started using storyboards to communicate our collective vision.
Getting to experience that “aha” together was exhilarating for the workshop attendees.
John Wirtz, my boss and our CPO, asked, “Shouldn’t we do this with the whole company? How would we do that?” One month later, I asked to conduct a full-day workshop with 8–10 employees at each of our five main offices.
Step 2 — Articulate the vision for the vision.
With the green light, I was all systems go. But wait…what was I doing? What was the goal? I began to grapple with what would become the second hardest part of this project. I had the why (tangible vision > just any ol’ vision), but I was still a long way from the what and how.
Fortunately, John got us moving in the right direction (again). He asked, “What are the key moments in time that all of our different customers experience together?” That question led to this scaffold.
This diagram was the backbone — and it itself was tangible. We just needed to fill in the pictures. When I toured the concept, people understood its purpose and the goal.
Step 3 — Involve every office and department.
Next, I surveyed the entire company for interest. I screened respondents based on three criteria:
- The customer archetype they knew the most about or closely identified with.
- The key point in time they understood best.
- Their answer to the question, “Why do you want to participate?”
Then, I took the list and did my best to ensure we represented:
- Every department.
- Every critical role within each office.
- Different tenures.
- Varying experiences with the customer archetypes and the products/services we provide.
No one could argue that this vision we represented a niche understanding. We intentionally structured the exercises breadth-first at every stage.
Step 4 — Facilitate a high-energy full-day workshop.
Let me be clear. As an industry, we undervalue facilitators. The experience taught me to appreciate others who excel at facilitation — especially those in design. Why? It’s hard! It takes practice and a lot of reps to master.
I plan to post more about organizing and running the workshops. For now, in lieu of that, here are some basic quality tips:
- Take care of the humans. Structure breaks, snacks, warm-ups and cooldowns.
- Momentum is everything. Be the tiebreaker if necessary. Do this only when a debate emerges and only after it’s clear the workshop team is stuck.
- You must iterate and adjust content for each audience (tea time in the U.K.) and environment (count the whiteboards).
- Remember your raw materials. Sharpies, Post-its and print-outs don’t appear out of thin air. You have to design every step of your attendee’s experience.
- Resist the temptation to involve yourself in the content/idea generation. Don’t direct. Facilitate!
As for the flow of the workshop itself, think: diverge, converge, repeat.
In the morning, we captured the current experience — including any highs and lows. Use dot voting to narrow the results and get everyone in sync for the afternoon.
In the afternoon, we sketched out idealized versions of these workflows. Then, I made people act out their stories. :)
We also ran a short version of the workshop with customers at our Elite Users Conference, so we could compare their tangible vision with ours.
I racked up a ton of miles visiting all of our offices to run these workshops, and it was one of the most rewarding activities of my entire career.
Step 5 — Synthesize! Write the story across multiple dimensions.
Now all we had to do was take this giant mess of storyboards and condense it into a single narrative to illustrate. No problem, right? Wrong.
I quickly remembered I was the only person with every piece of context spanning all six workshops. Everyone else simply experienced their workshop. I underestimated how important it was that I had seen 10 unique storyboards emerge
Ultimately I was the only one positioned to write the final narrative across all of the customers and points in time. Fortunately, my design leaders provided excellent critique and guidance. “Are we drawing out the right emotional tone here? That’s a great point, but how would you visualize that?”
Step 6 — Illustrate the damn thing.
Finally, the fun part!
Once again, I was lucky. Hudl already employed someone with great illustration skills. Our marketing designer, Allie Ward, picked up the thread and impressed everyone. She confronted challenges with the character faces, postures, mannerisms and to what degree Hudl should appear in each frame.
Our design director, John Henry Müller, provided art direction. He also coordinated with a professional storyboard artist to critique and guide Allie’s work.
Amazingly, the final illustrations captured our intent. They were fuzzy enough for inevitable strategic shifts in 3, 5 or 10 years, but also clear enough to align everyone’s mental image of Hudl’s 2025 vision.
Step 7 — Share it.
Once I presented the work at our annual offsite retreat, questions rolled in about how to apply the story in different parts of the organization (customer success, quality assurance, etc.). We’ll soon add it to our new hire orientation training and curriculum.
We also intentionally placed the final illustrations in our new global headquarters. It’s in the main corridor Hudlies take as they enter the building — adjacent to our company values and past award winners.
Step 8 — Use it.
We encourage everyone to ask:
- What do you suspect the person is thinking and feeling in each frame?
- What motivates each person to progress in their journey?
- Where do people get stuck today? What about tomorrow?
- In what ways does your work affect what the character thinks, feels, knows, decides or does?
- How might we improve or enhance the experience?
These questions were inspired by Airbnb, too.
At the end of the day, we wrote a story with pictures. If no one recites or hears the story, why did we bother? If employees don’t react and change behavior to support its manifestation, why go through the charade?
The story reminds every employee to thrive on the front lines with customers — especially when you can’t be there in person. And while it may not replace actually being there, it does keep the heart and human side of problems we solve in focus.
We learned a lot.
- The bigger you get, the more difficult it is for words alone to align your org. Vision must be visual.
- Setting healthy constraints is valuable in itself. What will be common and what will vary about your customers in the future?
- I underestimated the time and effort needed to synthesize the raw materials into a final narrative. You need one final author and one final editor. Don’t write the final story as a committee.
- People will struggle with how far out to set their “future lens”. Give guidelines and iterate if results feel too short-term or “out there”.
- Attention design leaders: Facilitate more! Don’t neglect this skill.
Here’s what’s happening over the next few months with Project Titans at Hudl.
- Weave the story together with our customers’ five jobs to be done. There’s more than one kind of coach — each with different notions of what personal progress means. Our storyboard provides a narrative backbone for all of them.
- Support directors and team members as they consider their individual product, service and customer visions. We need to evaluate future investment with the global story in mind. Tangible visions can be hierarchical.
- Recruit people who want to help make this vision a reality. I’m specifically looking for Senior Product Designers, Consumer Insights Researchers and a Senior Information Architect. Browse our open positions at hudl.com/jobs.