Vision statements and vision exercises – many organizations have them, but do they work? Business literature on the power of vision exists in abundance. But the real challenge about this strategic element is achieving and acting on a truly shared vision. Make no mistake, the power of shared vision moves mountains, and it’s worth the required effort. Here are some thoughts to consider.
When trying to build a shared vision, some describe this process as akin to herding cats. As anyone who has a domestic feline pet knows, cats are all basically independent self-designated CEOs of their own perceived world. The concept of "team" in the feline realm doesn’t exist.
A shared vision – where people, groups and organizations band together and move in the same direction – emerges when all concerned see real benefit and contribute. A shared vision can form the basis for a high-performing "can do" team. In an age where skepticism, sarcasm and a "me first" attitude can fuel unrelenting discontent, a shared vision serves up the antidote.
Here’s an example (and there certainly are many other examples elsewhere around the state) to illustrate this. The current success of Daviess County in southern Indiana largely came from the development and sustainment of a continuously evolving shared vision that began in a time when things weren’t so good. It was a collective vision, contributed to by many people. Part of it came in 2004, when David Abel, the then-Mayor (now deceased) of the county seat of Washington, took a major political risk. Back then the city and county didn’t have the major per capita increases and jobs that it does today. There was no WestGate tech park. There was no I-69. In fact, there was not much hope of job and wealth creation of any sort on a major scale.
In short, there was no vision. Something had to be done.
While some looked on with skepticism, Mayor Abel and others in the city and county worked together to initiate a Vision and Values project. In collaboration with the local newspaper, the Mayor commissioned direct research to get at least a snapshot of what the locals were thinking. Despite the political risk, he promised to disclose the results.
When the research results came out, they were bad. As the data noted, few believed that the city of Washington would ever rise to its former position again. Pessimism was widespread. The once vibrant downtown of the county seat was a haunted shadow of its former self. Rumors were rampant that the upcoming federal Base Realignment and Closure process (BRAC) would close the nearby $2 billion NSA/NSWC Crane facility for good, hurling the region into catastrophic economic recession with the departure of thousands of jobs.
This didn’t stop Mayor Abel and others in the county. The Mayor believed in the ancient proverb “Where there is no vision the people perish.” So, he and other business professionals and elected officials in the county joined forces. They started working together on a shared vision of growth and prosperity, which grew over time. And everyone acted on it in a collaborative fashion.
The initial steps were tiny. But they soon got bigger. Daviess County elected officials stepped up and courageously repealed a business-adverse inventory tax when it was not the politically correct thing to do. They installed a small EDIT tax to fund economic development efforts. This attracted attention. People outside the county and up in the capital city of Indianapolis started to take notice.
Other regional development efforts in the area that had stalled or sputtered began to draw new life. About the same time, a new gubernatorial administration came into power that wanted to strengthen efforts like what Daviess County was starting up. Thanks in part to this emerging shared vision, the county was in the right place at the right time.
Soon talks were underway to transform former corn and bean fields into what would become the $200 million WestGate @ Crane Technology Park, now home to a new major venture from Purdue. Local Daviess County officials had long supported a vision of I-69 connecting Evansville to Indy, even when there appeared to be no hope. Suddenly, with the new gubernatorial administration, the impossible happened. Funds were secured. The heretofore “impossible” interstate began to take shape. Even the Great Recession couldn’t stop the progression of this shared vision in the county.
The result of this shared vision? Today Daviess County is a state leader in key economic metrics like percentage of per capita income growth and workforce engagement. The interchange at I-69 and U.S. 50 in Washington is abuzz with development and job creation. Unlike many other counties in Indiana, Daviess is experiencing population growth. This progress came at least in part from a shared and sustained vision where people – business and elected officials alike – courageously worked together for a larger common purpose.
As others succeeded him, Mayor Abel got to see the fruits of some of what he helped start before his untimely death in 2015. Many have taken hold of that banner and moved it forward.
Daviess County is by no means unique. But its experiences underscore the high impact that can be achieved through a shared vision, even when setting such a vision seems almost foolhardy.
Cooperation, tolerance, relentless energy and humility are all required elements. It takes a team.
Ron Arnold is executive director of the Daviess County Economic Development Corp.