Vision Check

December 19, 2019

Vision check

Prescriptions for seeing beyond 2020


How’s your 2020 vision coming along?

If you’re one of the many, many leaders who used the optically significant year of 2020 to set a new aspiration for your organization five or 10 years ago, well, as they say, it’s been a decade.

How’s it looking?

Dialing back the clock ourselves, we found at least half a dozen VSA clients—P&G, Caterpillar, Avery Dennison, Sappi and Volvo among them—that we worked with between 2005 and 2015 to establish a “Vision 2020” or “20/20 Vision.” And they weren’t alone. A quick online search turns up thousands of “2020 vision” initiatives, from county fairs to the World Health Organization, and from global sales planning to innovation agendas.

Not since the year 2000, with all the anxiety and optimism that millennial milestone brought, have more organizations focused so intently on a single visionary moment than 2020.

Yet 2020 itself will soon be history. So as we enter this new year, it may be time for your next vision checkup—to reset your goals and strategic planning horizon, reassert your business intent, restate your core purpose, and recast your organization’s story as you look ahead to 2025 or 2030.

And there’s another reason your vision probably isn’t what it used to be.

Consider the unprecedented change in business, technology and society we’ve experienced over the past five or 10 years.

We’ve endured and emerged—slowly—from the global financial disaster of 2008. Economic and political divisions in the world have deepened. Technology, fueled by AI and scaled by cloud, has been fully domesticated, changing how we communicate, work, consume and live. There’s more job-hopping, and the disruptive reality of the gig and sharing economies. Streaming entertainment. Cryptocurrency, data breaches, the demise of the shopping mall. Looming automation of knowledge jobs. Demonstrable climate change, public distrust of institutions and media, truthiness, and rising anger—and voices—of the underrepresented. Social and environmental responsibility as a mainstream expectation.

That’s a fun list, right? And it’s a lot for just 10 years.

With these unprecedented forces, the requirements of a truly meaningful statement of strategic vision have seismically shifted, too.

For those building a shared vision for their organization for 2025 or 2030, we’ve zeroed in on three factors that have redefined what’s vision-worthy over the past decade. Want a purposeful vision? Here’s what speaks to your stakeholders today:

1. Socially relevant strategy.

The best visioning work today is able to see beyond baseline business objectives and investor expectations. Consumers, partners and employees want to know they are engaged with a company that builds a social agenda into its commercial agenda. Issues that many executives and boards once considered peripheral to the business—or a distraction—have now become central to protecting reputation, license to operate and delivering customer experience. Legislation, particularly in the EU, is often setting this larger agenda. Big-picture problems like data security, gender equality, the digital divide, financial literacy, resource sustainability, global climate change, labor rights, food security, economic opportunity—all have resonance with audiences in ways that they didn’t 10 years ago. Companies are expected to have a social promise built into their purpose statement. Does your “why?” address a higher-order problem?

2. Getting over Millennials.

Whether you call them consumer attitudes or generational mindsets, we crossed a significant threshold in the past 10 years. The oldest Millennials turn 38 this year—well into adulthood and old enough to be parents to today’s next generation of adults. All the hand-wringing over Millennials and how do deal with their “do what you love” habits and preferences now seems quaint. And outdated, if you’re defining a business vision for next-generation employees and customers. Members of Gen Z—who will account for one-third of the U.S. population in 2020—embrace authenticity and reject artificiality at even higher levels than Millenials, are more pragmatic and salary-focused, care to a lesser extent about how companies use their personal information, and have higher trust in companies demonstrating social responsibility. If your new vision intends to speak to the talent marketplace and customer experiences from today five years into the future, this generational shift should be clearly in the picture. Is your “why” speaking to the right people?

3. Human words.

The language of vision has changed. Nearly every client we talk to today recognizes the difference between the lofty but fuzzy corporate vision-and-mission packages of 10 years ago (and wondering what to do with them) and having a defined reason to exist that actually resonates with people. Business and organizational leaders are asking for vision, purpose and strategic intent statements with more substance and specificity so that employees, customers and other constituents can “get it.” And follow it. Our advice is to let your vision be inspired from the outside in, rather than the other way around. As an organizational “calling,” a statement that aspirationally but tangibly defines a human need and greater good Is a whole lot more compelling—and useful in day-to-day work—than stating a vision to "lead our industry" or “deliver shareholder value.”

Does your “why” speak human?

It’s inevitable that visions will continue to adapt to surprising new realities. Time can take a toll on a company’s strategy and psyche. Take this list of visionary companies who were crowned as tech “disruptors of the decade” by Harvard Business Review back in 2009: Apple, Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Microsoft and Dell. And check out what HBR considered the non-tech disruptors of the decade: Wal-Mart, Verizon, Dow Corning, GE, Goldman Sachs and Ford. Some of these enterprises continue to disrupt their way to glory; others, not so much. Like we said, it’s been a decade. Or as Bill Gates said, maybe better: "We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.”

So let’s all plan to “Thrive in 2025.”

Andy Blankenburg

Partner, Content Practice Lead

Andy is the person who turns strategy into story. He has typed for a living for most of his life, and is currently responsible for building VSA’s integrated content team—a group of 20 writers and content strategists working across the spectrum of customer experience. His hands-on work ranges from brand transformation and organization change efforts at some of the world’s largest enterprises to the branding of early-stage startups and the reinvention of individual products and services. Andy is particularly passionate about bringing meaning to businesses through strategic narrative, naming, voice and brand-led storytelling. He is also a big fan of the em dash.