I remember a conversation I once had with a leader of a health system about her vision for the future of health care for her system. She made a comment I will never forget.

She said, "The only difference between a vision and a hallucination is the number of people that see it." Her thinking was that leaders help people see beyond the tangible to formulate a vision of what is possible.

Whenever I repeat that quote, there is usually public laughter, and silent reflection. The goal is to create a vision that is so powerful and compelling that the intangible, invisible and uncertain "how..." is believable.

There are three main challenges leaders have between Visions of Performance and Hallucinations and ways to overcome them:

1. How do we rediscover why we are we doing this anyway? While targets, goals, and other metrics are always required for business strategies, one area that can be just as important is rediscovering the purpose of your organization. Why are we doing what we do? And how can we do it better than ever?

We find two very straightforward conclusions as we have conversations with people about where they work and their future.

  • People are less and less willing to work for organizations without a higher purpose, and
  • Organizations with a clear purpose financially outperform those that don't have one.

The most successful leaders, teams, and individuals spend time on things bigger than themselves. It is this purpose that makes the struggles worthwhile and the legacy one of great personal pride.

The purpose question is: what is our purpose that you most care about and that is bigger than any one of us? And what can we do to make it even more dynamic in the way we run and build our business going forward?

Also, instead of finding yourself, how do you lose yourself to a cause you believe, to solve a problem that has defied a solution, or pursue a "better way" where today's way is just unacceptable.

2. How do we create stretch and credible targets that are believed and owned through execution? Business goals can't be set solely by the expectations of The Street, desires of leadership, or by plugging the holes in a budget or financial plan.

The rigorous dialogue that leads to seeing and believing starts with this question: What is it that we want to create, that does not now exist, and that we are willing to endure personal sacrifice to bring to life?

Meaningful targets are set by initially and authentically thinking about what we want to create.

The opportunity is to take this conversation from a budget conversation to a commitment conversation by asking your team: What would you be most proud of achieving? How and where can we best challenge ourselves to achieve what we are capable of achieving?

It is equally important to bring greater transparency to the goal- and target-setting by answering the paradox question of stretch vs credible.

What do stretch and credible targets look like? What targets go beyond our comfort zone with a sense that we don't know how we are going to achieve them, and yet are credible enough that we don't find excuses or rationale for not achieving them when the going gets tough.

Both of these frameworks of conversation - what we want to create and "stretch and credible" - are essential to establishing the beliefs necessary to deliver on an inspiring performance.

3. How do we manage to the near-term pressures of the quarter and build an exciting long-term vision? The challenge of managing the near-term and the long-term priorities of the business is not new, however the pressure to meet quarter-by-quarter expectations does seem to intensify each year.

How do we not manage to the quarter at the expense of the long-term results, as well as make sure that we work from the future back versus just from today out?

One of the most helpful approaches to pacing and sequencing the balance between today's and tomorrow's targets is to organize initiatives into one of three categories:

  • Run the business better today
  • Build capabilities to execute on tomorrow's vision, and
  • "Key growth bets" for today and tomorrow

When an organization looks at its major initiatives or priorities with this lens, they can determine the commitment that best balances the short and long term.

The question may now be obvious and is, "what is the right balance between these categories of initiatives to run the business better today and build a compelling business for the future?"

Whether a company is starting a new business year or changing a strategy, many organizations lay out their goals, plans and priorities and outline their most important performance targets.

It starts with a gathering of the senior leaders where there is often a presentation on where we have been, where we are, and where we want to go. The presentation is predictability converted into the content for town hall meetings then cascaded as the new game plan to the rest of the organization.

Possibly the biggest mistake and greatest opportunity in change management is not getting the targets set, but creating believers in what is possible, what is worth fighting for, and being very focused on the difference between compliance and true commitment...being focused on the purpose, on why you do what you do. On seeing the vision versus thinking it's a hallucination.