Illumiti Innovation Blog

Reaching Your North Star, Part 1: Engaging visionaries

Date: April 01, 2020
By: Stephen Thomas

Reaching Your North Star: How to turn vision into reality without risking your business

Businesses today operate in a world of relentless change. New technologies and innovations are reshaping every aspect of a company’s operations – from customer-facing products and services to back office functions like finance and human resources.

Most business leaders recognize that transformative innovation can open the door to a new horizon of opportunities. The challenge is that few understand how to undertake such immense change initiatives without risking their business or causing it irreparable harm. When approximately 70% of major change initiatives fail, it can be difficult to hit the green light on transformation programs; too often, this leads to a patchwork of smaller-scale change initiatives that may have good intentions but do not necessarily align with a company’s overarching business strategy.

Over the course of this article series, we will discuss three critical success factors that can help companies reach their North Star – the long-term vision of their organization – without losing direction or risking their business along the way:

  • Part 1: Engaging visionaries to determine your North Star 
  • Part 2: Getting your people engaged and on board 
  • Part 3: Defining an outcomes-driven approach 


We hope you enjoy.

Reaching Your North Star

Part 1: Engaging visionaries to determine your North Star


krissana-porto-p6gQCmySSO4-unsplashIn today’s constantly evolving business and technology environment, undertaking large scale business transformation can be a complex challenge – one that must occur far more rapidly than in the past in order to deliver the maximum business value. Few companies have the long-term vision, desire, resources, or culture required to successfully move from where they are today to where they want to be quickly without materially disrupting their day-to-day operations.



Most companies need to take a longer-term, phased approach toward reaching their North Star – first building a strong foundation, and then layering on activities that build toward their overarching long-term vision.

It’s not a simple task – if it was, there would be no war stories in the marketplace. It is easy to forget long-term transformation objectives when faced with exciting new technologies or immediate solutions to sticky problems – a problem we call, ‘Shiny Ball Syndrome.’ Shiny Ball Syndrome can lead to factions within a company pursuing instant gratification by implementing quick fix technologies at the expense of strategic initiatives and objectives, thus incurring unnecessary cost and generating more risk than reward.

So, what can companies do to reach their North Star more effectively – avoiding significant roadblocks, missed turns, and without needing to double back? They can start by using their visionaries more effectively.

Dupont, a globally recognized brand that uses science and innovation for the purpose of improving safety, provides one example of how an organization can develop a North Star vision – a culture of safety promoted internally by its leadership – and successfully put  it into practice.


Moving beyond the traditional approach to using visionaries

In a typical transformation, a company engages visionaries at the front end of an initiative to help define the vision: to paint a picture of the organization’s North Star state – the ‘What.’ This often involves an external consultant (consider this person an external visionary) sitting down with experienced corporate veterans to imagine, ‘What if?’ and then developing a document that puts all the pieces together. The output of this process is then usually given to a project team to implement.

The challenge with this approach is that it limits visioning to external consultants and those with a long-history of doing things the same way. This can make it difficult to look outside the box, to not only enhance processes but to rethink them as well. Such one-on-one discussions can also get bogged down by individual needs – with participants looking for ways to get what they want at the least cost to them or their departments rather than considering the future needs of the whole organization.

Engaging visionaries throughout the North Star journey

Visionaries can be integral to the success of a North Star program, but only if a company takes the time to rethink who their visionaries are – and then engages them more frequently and more collaboratively throughout their change journey instead of only at the visioning stage.  To turn the use of visionaries into a critical success factor, companies should consider the following three activities:

  • Identify a diverse visionary group: When identifying corporate visionaries, companies should look for people able to bring unique perspectives to the table – people from different departments who have diverse backgrounds, experiences, skill-sets, and knowledge. If required, companies can augment their visionary group with external subject matter experts or consultants who can bring unique transformation experience and knowledge to discussions.
  • Use visioning workshops to drive collaboration: Collaboration is a critical mechanism for driving creative thought and joint ownership. Often collaborative discussions can also spark better ideas than any individual will have on their own. In a workshop format, companies can bring their diverse visionary group together to explore corporate challenges, risks, and opportunities, and to jointly create a future vision – one that is outcomes-focused, yet also considers tangible on-the-ground needs and barriers.


As a part of this process, companies should consider design thinking. A commonly used term by many executives, design thinking is both an ideology and a process – a technique focused on solving complex problems in a highly user-centric way. It works by focusing on understanding users, challenging assumptions, redefining problems, and creating innovative solutions.

To get the most out of a visioning workshop, companies should engage a creative and highly experienced facilitator who can keep the visionary group focused and aligned with organizational objectives.

  • Embed visionary group touch points into the transformation journey: Too often, the vision gets left behind as the project team forges ahead with implementation. This is because the people doing the work tend to focus on specific milestones (e.g. automating payments processing) and don’t necessarily consider how disparate activities fit together or build on top of one another. To keep focused on the future and allow for more agile project activities, companies should engage the visionary group on a regular basis – bringing them together with the project team to address challenges, discuss what factors may have changed, and identify how any new activities contribute to the overarching vision.
    For example, the visionary group could challenge the project team to ensure chosen technologies are flexible enough to handle proposed future activities – even if they are initially focusing on the Minimum Viable Scope.

A North Star vision can take a significant amount of time, participation, dedication, and building blocks to achieve. Companies that bring together a diverse visionary group, foster collaboration among this group, and then keep them engaged throughout the process to keep the journey on course will be well-positioned to turn their future vision into reality no matter the challenges that come their way.

Your North Star vision should become an integral part of your brand’s voice, complemented by visual cues and messages that convey your brand’s purpose and provide a visible reminder of your mission.


One part of a larger puzzle

Engaging visionaries is only one critical success factor in a company’s reaching their North Star. In our next article coming soon, we will look at how companies can turn their people from being the biggest transformation risk into the biggest opportunity.


About the Author

Stephen Thomas, Vice President, Consulting and Solutions at Illumiti

A graduate of the University of Waterloo, Stephen is a senior consulting executive with more than 20 years of SAP software implementation experience across a diverse range of industries including high tech, chemicals, commodities, mining, Mill and EC&O.

About the Author

Stephen Thomas

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