Do you need vision to see where you’re going?

Posted on November 1, 2017

Nexus recently facilitated a series of planning workshops with the executive team of a government organisation. We structured these sessions around the three basic questions we ask every client in this situation:

  • where are we heading?
  • how will we get there (or what actions will we take)?
  • how will we measure progress

The team brainstormed and agreed on a number of general characteristics that described what they wanted their organisation to look like in the future, but they were reluctant to formalise them in a vision statement. They felt a vision statement or slogan didn’t add value and could be alienating for staff, and that action would be more effective in communicating their strategy (in this case, improved customer service and, in particular, the adoption of new technologies) to staff and stakeholders.

So the question is, what is the role of a vision statement in the public sector? Is it a necessary part of defining where an organisation is heading, or is it trite and off-putting for staff? One reason it can be the latter is that government organisations are often mandated by legislation and don’t have the same freedoms as their private sector counterparts to fundamentally challenge what they do.

In contrast, private sector organisations can be confronted with existential crises. For example, in recent years there has been a blurring of boundaries between the services delivered by technology, telecommunication and media organisations like Telstra, Apple and News Corporation. This has compelled them to rethink their core business and reposition themselves in an ever-changing marketplace, so they are no longer merely computer, telecommunication or media companies.

Government organisations often don’t have the challenges associated with this complex repositioning, but they also don’t have the opportunities it provides. They are limited to making improvements to the delivery of their core services, in line with their mandated purpose. Of course, this doesn’t mean that strategic direction is not important. It’s essential that government organisations have a clear idea about where they’re headed and constantly challenge they way they do things. However, capturing it in a trite vision statement is perhaps less important than actually doing the work.

The exception? A fundamental change in the way the service operates, such as organisations that have been impacted by the National Disability Insurance Scheme. In this case, rethinking and communicating the organisation’s raison d’etre (or vision) is appropriate and necessary because it’s not business as usual for staff or stakeholders. Answering the three fundamental questions around where you’re heading, how you’ll get there and how you’ll measure progress is even more critical during these times of change.

Over the last 21 years, Nexus has worked with dozens of diverse organisations in the public sector. We understand the challenges and constraints involved in strategic planning for public sector organisations and offer expert guidance throughout the process. Whether your organisation is undergoing a significant change to service delivery, or requires a strategic plan that focuses on action over slogans, get in touch to find out how we can help.