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Vision statement: How to consciously orient the dental team to a vision-altered state

Feb. 21, 2017
Dorothy Garlough, RDH, describes how dental teams can reach a consensus for an office's vision statement.

Dorothy Garlough, RDH, MPA

In medieval times, it was accepted that there were certain people who had visions. These people were sometimes persecuted, but society believed that mystics had access to knowledge and truths through trances or dreams. Divine in nature, these visions projected what the future would look like. By contrast, a vision within a wholearchy, or person-centered team, is not mystical in nature. It is consciously created. It does not come to the team in a trance or any other altered state, and although not accessed in a dream state, it is a dream. It is what the office aspires to for the future.

Questions often arise as to the difference between the purpose statement, vision statement, and values statement. An effective purpose statement, as I wrote about in the January 2017 issue of RDH magazine, outlines the office's impact on patients, linking the team to the reason why they are there. It connects the "head" to the "heart" and defines the contribution that the team makes to better society. Additionally, in the December 2016 edition of RDH, I discussed how establishing your office's values acts as the rudder that steers the office to its purpose and vision. Values keep you on track by offering the standard by which decisions are made and followed.

If values help orient teams in a direction, it is the vision that is the far-off destination.1 The vision sets a defined direction for the practice's growth, development, and expansion. Because it is the destination, it indicates the route needed to be taken and offers guiding transformational initiatives. It identifies what you wish for the office in some years' time. The vision statement is the ideal objective of the business, pinpointing the ultimate dream, status, aspiration or position the team holds for the office. It is the future goal that is being created today through the daily tasks that the team performs.

The vision statement in a wholearchy is formally written and referenced within the office's constitution. Within a hierarchical business model, senior management or owners usually draw up the vision,2 but in a person-centered team, the entire staff is involved in its creation. Having the team invest in the vision will connect them to the long-term picture of the office. What do they want the ultimate success to be? What are they purposefully creating? How successful do they dream of becoming? A bold vision statement will stretch everyone; vivid descriptions of what it will mean to achieve it will inspire the team. The vision statement can range in length from a sentence to multiple pages. But many powerful vision statements are succinct. Properly crafted, they can carry powerful messages.

One short vision statement, that of Southwest Airlines, is to "become the most loved, most travelled, most profitable airline in the world." Not yet there, Southwest Airlines is striving toward this vision in its daily operations. In a 2015 survey of its employees, 75% of Southwest Airline's staff said that working for Southwest Airlines was their "calling." Clearly, they are a united force that is working together to achieve their vision.

Henry Ford, the creator of the automotive assembly line, held a bold vision. In the early twentieth century he said, "When I'm through . . . everyone will have one. The horse will have disappeared from our highways." This daring statement was an imaginative stretch for the time, but Ford's vision became the reality. Our own visions too can become our reality.1

Creating the vision statement for a wholearchical office is a process that involves everyone on the team. Begin with a discussion of your practice's reality.3 Where are you as an office and where do you want to go? What are the possibilities? What could be a bold and beautiful future reality?4 An effective and inspiring vision statement will not be created in one day. Everyone will need time to incubate ideas and dream. Keep this creative tension alive by speaking about it often over a period of time. Regularly sharing thoughts, dreams, and possibilities will help the team to interpret bold ideas and fashion a rallying call of what could be. Acting on your short-term goals will take you toward your vision, which is your long-term goal. Know that short-term goals will need regular resetting or modification to align the team toward the long-term goal.

In most organizations, leaders struggle in communicating an image of the future that draws staff in. The usual vision statement is fuzzy and inspires only boredom. Yet, when teams collectively envision a dynamic vision, it will not only unite them but also stimulate progress. Only when a vision is shared, as it is in a wholearchy, will it be real to everyone. Listening very carefully to others, appreciating their hopes and attending to their needs, and utilizing the highest form of learning (observation), will help the team form a compelling image of the future. The staff wants to hear how their hopes and dreams will be fulfilled. The vision will feed their inspiration.

In a person-centered team, it is the team that creates the vision, but it is the leader who carries the torch. The leader must proactively light the way to the future destination. So how do leaders develop this luminescence? First, they must resolve to carve out time from urgent but endless operational matters. Research shows that only 3% of the typical leader's time is devoted to envisioning and charting the way forward.5 The enlightened leader will make time to develop a strategy for developing the shared vision. In addition, a proactive leader seeks expert coaching, mentoring, and change facilitation. They realize that leading their republic of team will require input, insight, and ingenuity to reach their vision, and the challenges posed to them by other experts will expand their skills as leaders.

Vision statements undergo minimal revisions during the life of a business, unlike operational goals, which may be updated from year to year.1 Taking the time to facilitate your vision statement in a creative and meaningful way will offer guidelines of behavior for the entire team. Reaching your office vision is a process that must be lived. When you set goals that align with your values and purpose and use strategies that offer the processes to navigate toward your vision, congruency occurs. Everyone on the team walks the talk and that is a magnet for success. Your teammates may not be mystics, but in a person-centered team, you are all dreamers. And your vision is the goal for tomorrow of what you are creating today. It truly can feel mystical and magical! RDH


1. Collins J, Porras JI. Building Your Company's Vision. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/1996/09/building-your-companys-vision. Published September 1996. Accessed December 19, 2016.
2. Kenny G. Your Company's Purpose Is Not Its Vision, Mission, or Values. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2014/09/your-companys-purpose-is-not-its-vision-mission-or-values. Published September 3, 2014. Accessed December 19, 2016.
3. Stoner JL. What is Vision? Seapoint Center for Collaborative Leadership. http://seapointcenter.com/what-is-vision/. Published April 22, 2015. Accessed December 19, 2016.
4. https://www.owasp.org/images/1/1b/Building_Your_Company's_Vision_-_Jim_Collins.pdf. White Paper Harvard Business Review On Point. Accessed Jan 12, 2017.
5. Kouzes JM, Posner B. To Lead, Create a Shared Vision. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2009/01/to-lead-create-a-shared-vision. Published January 2009. Accessed December 19, 2016.

Dorothy Garlough, RDH, MPA, is an innovation architect, facilitating strategy sessions and forums to orchestrate change within dentistry. As an international speaker and writer, Dorothy trains others to broaden their skill-set to include creativity, collaborative innovation, and forward thinking. She recognizes that engagement is the outcome when the mechanisms are put in place to drive new innovations. Connect with her at [email protected] or visit engagingteams.com.