Building a Shared Vision

To enable change a shared vision must be clearly articulated right throughout  the organisation and be genuinely believed in by all stakeholders.

“Few, if any, forces in human nature are as powerful as a shared vision” Peter Senge. 199

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In his book, The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge highlights that, before any organisational change can truly take place the development of a shared vision within an organisation is vital. He highlights that the many organisation or programme visions are those of a particular individual, groups or sub-groups and are often imposed on others, not truly ‘owned’ within the organisation.

He describes 7 different stakeholder responses that can be used to assess and understand levels of buy-in during a transformation programme.

At its simplest level, a shared vision is the answer to the question:

‘what do we want to create?’

Just as personal visions are pictures that people carry in their heads and hearts, so too are shared visions that people throughout an organisation carry. When people truly share a vision they are connected and bound by a common purpose.  Transformation programmes rely on the strength of a shared vision being built as it provides the focus and energy for achieving the objectives of the programme. Change is most effective when people strive to accomplish something that deeply matters to them. Indeed, transformation efforts may seem meaningless until people become excited about some vision they truly want to accomplish. The concept of building a vision is not a new one; however Senge notes that most ‘visions’ are one person or group’s vision imposed on an organisation.


Senge describes a number of possible stakeholder attitudes in response to this:

  • Where leaders attempt to ‘sell’ a vision to others he concludes that most will only comply at best as they are being asked to do something they would not otherwise have chosen to do. In some cases, they will not even comply and show apathy for the change;
  • Compliant followers go along with a vision, accept it and do what is expected of them e.g. in order to keep their jobs or gain promotion;
  • In contrast, where someone enrols in the vision it implies they do so out of choice, want it and have a genuine desire to see change occur within the organisation;
  • Finally, being committed describes a state of being not only enrolled but feeling fully responsible for owning it and making it happen. This is different to enrolment where someone can genuinely want it to occur but the vision will still ultimately be someone else’s concept.

When it is used
This is a useful tool to help the Programme Leadership to understand the level of buy-in key stakeholders have at a point in time towards the transformation vision and objectives. Using the individual categories to assess stakeholders can help to surface potential reasons why people may be resisting change and indicative behaviours to watch out for. Importantly, this can give rise to corrective actions being identified to help build and increase levels of commitment. It may also help the programme leader re-evaluate the strength of their vision and approach towards stakeholders.

The tool should be used mainly on a one-to-one basis and the output, if documented, should be treated as sensitive and highly confidential (use and shred) .

How to use it
To be used in a stakeholder management meeting to assess levels of commitment. A typical approach would be to:

  1. Identify key stakeholders or groups for consideration.
  2. Assess their actions, level of support and behaviours demonstrated towards the programme and vision to date.
  3. Agree which category they currently fall into and why.
  4. Where this is apathy, non-compliance or grudging compliance try to identify the root causes for this.
  5. Identify interventions to increase levels of commitment – what will personally motivate them about the vision?
  6. Plan actions to capitalise on committed/enrolled stakeholders with a view to sharing their energy and enthusiasm for the vision.

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Post by Pete Wilson

Pete has worked in the technology and business change space for over 30 years. He's worked globally for large public sector and governmental bodies and for large private sector multinationals across numerous industry sectors.

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