Shared Visions Underpin Strong Organisations

A program that works to build successful schools and communities across cultures focuses on identifying a Shared Vision.
Feb 1, 2024
Getting behind a Shared Vison and realising that people and their voices are an organisation's most valuable resource create strong schools.

The horror of a school shooting has yet to visit Australia but in the USA, school shootings are common, among the first and most notorious was the shooting at Columbine, an event that is still vivid decades later.

While there are many factors at play, shootings represent the failure of a school community’s culture in stark relief.

Bill Martin was a first-hand witness to Columbine, working in the school, and as an educator and consultant in the US, Martin has continued to look on as the failures that led to that situation have continued to be repeated.

Identifying a Shared Vision is core to the way a successful school functions and Martin has been intimately involved with constructing a program around the idea of Shared Vision that encourages a community to buy into its own success.

He says, “Shootings are an epidemic in the USA with no end in sight. Mass shootings are as commonplace as a trip to a grocery store. Columbine has long been recognized as one of the birthplaces of mass shootings. Allowing a gun in the hands of a troubled mind is a recipe for disaster.

“It was a good school. It was the deepest of learning pits.

“Much was learned. If Americans wanted, they could stop mass murders tomorrow. That we choose not to is a movie into the current state of our democracy.”

Martin is now Managing Director of Bill Martin & Associates, which facilitates change in large and small organizations through the generation of powerful Shared Visions involving all stake holders, and implementation of the resulting long-term development plans. He focuses on organizational learning, the creation of leadership capacity, innovation, effective change, and the direct teaching of systems thinking skills and thinking dispositions.

“As a school principal, who was shot at in 1985 in Texas, and was witness to Columbine, all I learned about keeping schools safe earned our reputation for building outstanding school cultures based on aligned Shared Visions and Core Values.

“I am proud that we were invited to go to Columbine 19 years after the massacre to help them build a new Shared Vision and identify the Core Values to move them out of a long community grieving process and build a long-term school development plan to move to a new future.”

Martin designed the Shared Vision Process when he was appointed as a secondary school principal.

“We engaged in deep understanding to know how to align the efforts of large secondary schools through developing and implementing a truly Shared vision. In a 10-year period two of these large secondary schools won state and national recognition as Blue Ribbon Schools, the highest honor from the USA Department of Education.

“During this time, I engaged the support of Australian, Dr John Edwards to refine, and refine the Shared Vision Process. In 2005 we formed a powerful partnership to take the Process around the world. As we have worked with organizations and continued to research and learn, the Shared Vision Process continues to evolve and get better.”

A Shared Vision is the first step to become a functional organization. It is a crystal-clear picture of what the community wants to deliver.

“The creators of the Shared Vision are the voices of every person who is part of the Vision Creating Community. Every voice must be heard respectfully, openly, and transparently.”

The process of identifying a Shared Vision is normally spread over two days: the first day involves deep, respectful questioning, the Inquiry Probes Process. This draws the mental models and personal, practical knowledge (PPK) of the Vision Creating Community. These form the first drafts of the Shared Vision. The second day involves writing the second draft of the Shared Vision.

“We can identify the Core Values and the deep understanding themes: the areas that we must address to get to where we want to go from where we are now.”

The Shared Vision Process takes three years:
Year one: Build the power of alignment by building a Shared Vision, identifying your Core Values, and engaging in deep understanding to know what you need to do to realize the Shared Vision.
Year two: Design and begin to implement your Long-Term Development Plan to move toward the Shared Vision.
Year three:  Action Learning to implement the Long-Term Development Plan - live your plan, work your plan.

Some 179 schools across six countries (USA, Australia, New Zealand, UK, Norway, and Sweden), many businesses (Intec, Eldercare, South Australia Regional Health, Oldfields, etc) and elite sports (West Coast Eagles and Essendon Bombers) have used the Shared Vision Process as their improvement tool since 2005.

The Shared Vision Process proved powerful in Sweden and Norway where language is uniquely different than English. Education is done through the government of Kommunes in Norway and Sweden. 

“When Kommune leaders saw the Shared Vision Process enter their schools they asked if we would help to grow leadership capacity across the Kommunes."

The Shared Vision Process aligns with the respect for democracy and collaboration in Scandinavia and from 2007 until the pandemic in 2019 Martin made annual trips to Norway and Sweden.

“Those thirteen years demonstrate the most vital outcome. Leaders translated the process to their own languages and contexts. Those leaders are continuing to use the processes in their professional work. The universality of the Shared Vision Process is the greatest outcome.

“When you accept that developing one’s future must happen contextually, from inside the hearts and souls of the people doing the work, then a Shared Vision Process works within any culture,” he says.

“As leaders our success was simple. We unleashed the power of our personal, practical, knowledge (PPK). The unique lived lives of every person working within an organization are the most powerful resources the organization has. Our greatest pride is developing a process that ensures every voice is heard, respectfully and transparently, to build the organization’s future. Those voices shape the Shared Vision.

“When we would line our unique knowledge base up shoulder to shoulder announcing ‘this is what we are about; this is what we will achieve together. Anyone who tries to get in our way will have to deal with all of us united together.’ We created an unstoppable force.  Awards flowed from this power of alignment.”

UNESCO invited Martin to serve on a four-person team (USA - 1, UK - 2, Hungry - 1) to go to Kuwait to present recommendations to improve secondary education. Building a Shared Vision for developing a national long-term development plan was the ultimate recommendation after collaboration with Kuwaiti Education Leaders.

“But one young Kuwaiti woman, a primary school principal, said to me as I prepared to leave, ‘Mr. Martin, this will never happen in my country. Only the powerful voices are heard.’”

“Compare that quote to this one from a Christchurch secondary school teacher: ‘What I enjoy is the fact that consensus p****s off people who dominate, and when voices are heard they are usually stilled.’”

Bill will be speaking at the 20th International Conference on Thinking in Melbourne – July 7 to 11, 2024