Making Vision Stick: Part 7—Launching New Initiatives

Do you have a system for deciding if new initiatives are in line with your vision?


In part 7 of his Making Vision Stick series, Andy Stanley, best-selling author, leadership communicator and founding pastor of North Point Ministries, helps prepare leaders for the ongoing growth and operations of their organizations: launching new initiatives.

“Now as leaders, we love all the new stuff, don't we?” Andy posits. “A new product, a new service, new initiatives. But in our enthusiasm around a launch we sometimes forget to address the broader question, ‘why?’ Why are we doing this?” 

Watch this video to learn why it is important evaluate initiatives to determine if they are in line with your organization's vision.

When your organization decides to roll out a new initiative, a new product, or a new service, it's much like rolling out a new vision. Somebody has to get up and talk about it. Somebody has to answer these questions; why are we doing this? What problem does this address? How is this new initiative a solution to a problem? Essentially somebody has to get up and cast a compelling vision in order to get everyone energized and involved.

Now as leaders we love all the new stuff, don't we? A new product, a new service, new initiatives. But in our enthusiasm around a launch we sometimes forget to address the broader question, why? Why are we doing this?

Now I know for me I can get very impatient around this issue. I think it's a good idea. Why shouldn't everybody else think it's a good idea? And in my darkest moments I think, "Do I even owe everybody an explanation? I mean don't they work for me? If I think this is a great idea, shouldn't we just move forward?" Again it's easy to get wrapped up in the new and forget the importance of getting buy-in from those that we lead. But great leaders always pause and ask the question, have I informed the crowd? Do people really understand not just what we're doing but why we're doing it?

The other thing I sometimes forget is that whenever I channel resources to a new initiative I'm usually taking resources away from something else which means I'm usually taking them away from someone else. If the people in the broader organization don't have a clear understanding of why we're doing what we're doing, things can go negative very quickly. So I think everything that we've talked about as it relates to casting a compelling vision applies specifically to launching a new initiative.

Now the other thing about new initiatives is this, ideally, they should support and fuel the vision of the organization. Consequently when we launch something new, we've got to go out of our way to connect the new with the old, to connect whatever it is we're launching with the vision of the organization. That means leaders should begin the roll out with the reiteration of the vision of the organization. Our tendency of course is to get up and talk about the new initiative, the new service, the new product. After all, that's what we're most excited about. But that's usually a mistake.

New things get traction from the existing things. New initiatives gain the most traction when attached to the vision of the organization. Maybe an illustration would help. We have in ingress, egress problem on one of our campuses. In fact for seven years we've been trying to get permission to build a bridge that would give us another way of getting people on and off our property. So after seven years of going back and forth with the City, the Board of Trustees of a state university, the Corp of Engineers, and two additional property owners, we finally got all the permission necessary to build this bridge. Well, you could imagine how excited I was to get up in front of our congregation and give them the good news. And honestly my tendency was to get up on Sunday morning and say, "I have some great news. We've received all the approvals. We're going to build a bridge." But that would have been a terrible approach and here's why.

For one thing, the bridge was going to be very expensive. And it was going to take a year to complete. And I was about to ask the people on our church to participate financially. In other words, I was going to ask them to pay for this bridge. But the people who attend that church on a regular basis had grown accustomed to waiting 20 or 30 minutes to get on and off the property. They were fine without a bridge. So in light of all of that it was vital that I attach the bridge project to the overall vision of the organization.

Now, while the bridge really was a strategic means to an end, it was still imperative for me to connect the dots. So when I stood up in front of the congregation, I didn't talk specifically about the bridge until I talked specifically about what we had come together to do. Within the context of our vision I was able to explain that the bridge was really more than a bridge. The bridge was a means by which we were going to stay on task with the mission and vision of our church. We actually captured my presentation on video. So I thought it might be helpful to show you a couple of video clips. In this first clip, I'm reminding our people of the specific challenge we face as it relates to getting on and off the campus. So let's take a look at this first clip.

Our biggest challenge as you know is getting people on and off the campus. We can seat about 4800 people in worship at one time with our east and west auditoriums. And we have plenty of parking for that, and children space, and everything else. Our challenge is, once we get passed 3500 people at a time on this campus it gets exponentially ridiculous in the parking lot. There are Sunday's when we'll have 10,000 or 11,000 people in church, not counting kids, 10,000 or 11,000 people on this campus. And it's ridiculous. And you know how hard it is to invite people to this church. You can't just say, "Hey, meet me at church." You have to say, "All right, we have a strategy, a plan. I'm going to have a flag. We'll meet at the mall. Keep your flashers and keep your bumper right next to mine. You'll love our church. It's a great place. Just don't get loss." And it's just . . . Anyway.

Now if you'll notice I didn't leverage the fact that our regular attenders were having difficulty getting on and off the campus, even though that's true. I leveraged the fact that it's difficult to invite a guest. Our vision is not to make church easier for church people. Our vision is centered around those who don't attend. That's why we need a bridge. Now in this second clip I talk about the price of the bridge. It was going to cost $5 million dollars. Basically I was asking them to pay for it, a $5 million dollar driveway. But once again I presented within the context of what we're doing and what we have the potential to do once we're able to fully utilize our campus. Let's watch.

For $5 million dollars it's essentially like us building a 2,000-seat worship center, putting all the sound, PA, parking, and staff in it. Because we have 2,000 seats on Sunday morning and at this first service and second service that we can't really use consistently because once we fill them up, it's just too hard to go to church here. And I have friends that live out where I do almost to Cherokee County that use to go to North Point that say, "We love it. We love the children's programs. We miss it. It's just too much like going to a Brave's game every weekend. My husband just isn't going to do it." Essentially, I don't see this bridge as much as I see it as a way for us to get maximum use out of the facility you have already built and you've already paid for.

Now in this third clip we're going to watch I'm back around to the strategic nature of the bridge. And you'll notice in this clip I make is somewhat personal. Let's watch.

It's really not for us because our goal is be a church that un-church people love to attend. And for those of us who are believers and our committed we will deal with the hassle. You know like I know, it's too difficult to invite someone. We have plenty of seats, plenty of parking, it's just getting on and off the campus. So I don't really see this as brick and steel and mortar. To me this is just a way to get maximum use out of the seats that we have. And honestly, if you put yourself in my position the last thing I want to do is raise money for something that's not strategic.

That's why we don't have a gym. That's why we don't have a family life center. That's why we don't have a chapel, a cute chapel for weddings. There are a lot of things we've never raised money for. Because I don't want to give to something like that and I don't want to raise money for it. But I'm all about raising money for things that are strategic. And I think it's a huge strategic step for us as a campus. It just really makes in a sense, our whole campus bigger and gives us leverage for the facilities again, that you've already bought.

So here's the bottom line, new initiatives and products are incredible opportunities to recast vision for our entire organization. But it's more than a great opportunity. Connecting the dots between vision and your new initiatives is essential if you want buy-in from the people who plan to take your vision seriously.

Now one more thing on new initiatives. The vision of the organization should be the primary filter through which decisions are made and thus the primary filter when a new initiative is being considered. But that's not always the case. As we said, leaders love the new stuff. Entrepreneurial leaders get bored really quickly. Add that to the fact that we are all experts at self-deception. And before you know it we're off on a tangent, involved in projects and initiatives that have nothing to do with our core business.

When presented with a new idea or initiative the first question we should ask is, is this in keeping with our vision really, really. Not is this a good idea, which it may or may not be but in light of where we decided this organization is going will this really help us get there, really. Now here's why that's important. Along the way you're going to run across some really good ideas that are not vision centric but ideas you would be foolish not to take advantage of.

Case in point. Back in the 80s Breed Corporation was a company that manufactured detonators and hand grenades. One day the president of Breed was reading an article about airbags. Two things catches his attention. First, air bags go off on impact and airbags blow up. So of course he thinks, "Sounds like my kind of product." So one year and a few hundred-thousand dollars later they've created an airbag trigger. And they've got a crew in Japan pitching it to Toyota. So yeah, there's a time and place to pilot new ideas and chase new opportunities. But what gets companies in trouble is when they're not honest about the disconnect between new ventures and their core vision.

Now when you run across an idea or opportunity that is a complete departure from what you do name it for what it is. Resist the tendency to bend or broaden your organization's vision to encompass a new idea. Let the new idea stand on its own. Present it for what it is, a new standalone idea or product. When you start messing with the organizational purpose and vision, you run the risk of losing focus, worse. And this is subtle, you run the risk of propping up bad idea with the existing momentum and resources of an otherwise focused organization. That's always dangerous. And it has the potential to bring discontent among the troops.

Be honest and just say it, "This is really far afield of our vision and doesn't really fit with out core business." This is going to create some sideways energy. But I still think it's something we should pursue. The sharp leaders in your organization will always appreciate that kind of honesty. An example from our world would be television. A lot of churches are on television. For 15 years we've basically said "no" to that opportunity. Because our vision was to create churches that un-church people love to attend. Every time a television opportunity came along, or somebody suggested we go on television, we measured that opportunity against the vision and asked, "Okay, how does being on television help us create churches?" And the answer is, it doesn't. So we won't.

But not too long ago a group offered us free airtime if we would create a 30 minute program. Well, my initial reaction was, "We don't do TV. That's not our core business." But at the same time free is free. So I went to our Board and said, "This is an opportunity that doesn't fit our core business. This is not going to help us create churches that un-church people love to attend. But it's an opportunity I didn't feel like I could say no to without first bringing it to you." So we began to experiment with North Point TV. Something that upfront we admitted was going to create a little bit of sideways energy. But because I didn't try to camouflage it with vision talk the Board sees it for what it is. And we feel more freedom to can it, if it can't stand on its own merit. That's why brutal honesty is important when piloting new initiatives that are not truly vision centric.

So to sum up, when it come to new initiatives they provide a great opportunity to reiterate vision. Your organization’s vision should serve as the initial filter. And when a new idea doesn't pass the vision test admit it. It maybe an opportunity worth chasing. But at least you will be chasing it with your eyes wide open.

Andy Stanley

Leadership communicator, best-selling author and founding pastor of North Point Ministries Andy Stanley inspires tens of thousands of people. Andy founded Atlanta-based North Point Ministries in 1995, leading six churches in the Atlan...

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