Vision: Hamilton's Touchstone

A vision is a blueprint for where you're going, how you plan on getting there, and how you'll behave along the way.

By Graham Crawford
Published February 16, 2015

What is a Vision and why is it important for Hamilton to use one?

The problem isn't that Hamilton doesn't have a Vision. The problem is we have several of them, but we don't really use any of them.

As a result, we're suffering from blurred Vision.

That leads to unfocused discussions, full of opinions that may or may not connect to where we're trying to go as a City.

It's time to agree on a single, clear Vision for Hamilton's future.

A Vision isn't a slogan. It doesn't live on a poster. Or in a speech. Or on a video.

A Vision is a blueprint for where you're going, how you plan on getting there, and how you'll behave along the way.

A Vision lives everywhere you go and in everything you do.

Think of a Vision as a touchstone: Hamilton's touchstone.

Originally, a touchstone was a piece of basanite.


Depending on the mark it left, it told you the purity, or value, of the gold.

This is the City of Hamilton's touchstone:

VISION: To be the best place in Canada to raise a child, promote innovation, engage citizens, and provide diverse economic opportunities.

We should be using it to test the value of each major decision Council and staff make.

We don't.

Instead, it's as if the mayor, 15 Councillors, the City Manager, and the Senior Management Team are all inside a room with the door closed.

Someone is outside the door with 1,000 sheets of paper. A single sheet is removed from the top and placed under the door.

Inside, they pick up the single page and ask, "Okay, what should we do about this one?"

No context. No priorities. No way of knowing what's coming next.

No touchstone.

So, how do you use a Vision as a touchstone?

We need to start by looking at the five elements of the Vision:

Here's how it works.

You take an issue such as the bus lane. Then, you assess it against each of the five elements of the Vision.

The discussion leads to a Vision-driven decision.

This isn't science. The process doesn't give you the answer. The process helps you to determine the best answer: the answer that best supports the Vision.

What would make our Vision even more useful is if we defined each of the five elements.

When we say, "To be the best place in Canada", what do we mean by that? How would we define "best" in a way that makes sense for Hamilton?

How would we define each of the other four elements so they made sense for Hamilton too?

It could look like this:

What makes the Vision even more powerful is if you develop high-priority objectives aligned to each strategic element.

We would use these high-priority objectives to assess how well we're progressing toward achieving our stated Vision.

There's still plenty of other work that must be done, but these priorities are the ones critical to our success.

We would then have a Vision that everyone could understand and remember, that is aligned with our key priorities. All on a single, understandable, clear graphic.

One more thing.

The City of Hamilton has developed five Cultural Pillars that speak to the values and behaviours most critical for success as an organization. They are:

The Cultural Pillars should be added to the Vision to illustrate the foundational values and behaviour upon which the Vision will be achieved.

They should also be integrated into everything management, staff and Council do - from performance management to succession planning to communication.

This would mean we would have a fully integrated framework for:

It's time the Mayor, Council, the City Manager and the Senior Management Team got together and made this happen.

Not just for them. But for all of us.

It's a lot easier for all of us to work together when we're all using the same touchstone.

Vision touchstone

I sent this to Council with the following letter:

Dear Mayor, Councillors, City Manager, and members of the SMT,

I'm asking for a simple favour from all of you. I need 6 minutes of your time to watch a short "video" I posted on Facebook and Twitter today.

It's called Hamilton's Touchstone. It's about the power of strategic Vision - why Hamilton needs one and how to use one.

I've talked with some of you directly about this approach. It's a proven methodology, one that the company I used to own facilitated with organizations around the world. It works. In a very real way, it's what we used to call "structured common sense".

So, when you have a moment, please invest 6 minutes seeing and understanding how we can make our Vision truly strategic. I'm happy to discuss the content of the video over coffee if that is of interest, as I've done with a few of you already.

If you think this approach has merit, please share that with your Councillor. Ask for comments on how he or she thinks this approach can work for Hamilton.

Thanks for watching or reading this. Please consider sharing it with other people you know who want to build on Hamilton's momentum.

Graham Crawford was raised in Hamilton, moving to Toronto in 1980 where he spent 25 years as the owner of a successful management consulting firm that he sold in 2000. He retired and moved back to Hamilton in 2005 and became involved in heritage and neighbourhood issues. He opened Hamilton HIStory + HERitage on James North in 2007, a multi-media exhibition space (aka a storefront museum) celebrating the lives of the men and women who have helped to shape the City of Hamilton.


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By fmurray (registered) | Posted February 16, 2015 at 16:14:19

Nice work, Graham.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 16, 2015 at 16:46:19

great stuff Graham. Not sure sending anything to councillors matters anymore, but can't fault great citizens for continuing to try. Council and staff know all of this. They just choose to make all their decisions based on what will allow them quickest driving access to their nearest Tim Hortons.

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By H+H (registered) - website | Posted February 16, 2015 at 17:04:56

Jason, must admit I'm having trouble remaining optimistic about the role our government is playing, and will play going forward, in Hamilton's growth. the thing is, they do know about all of the pieces, but they don't connect any of them. The question is why? Because they don't know how? Or, because this kind of approach builds in accountability and focus?

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By GrapeApe (registered) | Posted February 17, 2015 at 09:28:25 in reply to Comment 109207

In my most cynical pov, a vision for all of Hamilton will not get them re-elected.

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By Stever (anonymous) | Posted February 18, 2015 at 12:58:30 in reply to Comment 109238

That's not cynical, it's realistic. They all know what they need to do to get re-elected and it's not being progressive.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 16, 2015 at 19:09:51 in reply to Comment 109207

I don't have the answer to that, but any approach that builds in accountability and focus is worthwhile.

I wonder if councillors voted in 'at large' would solve our problem?
Or would they still find a way to play parochial politics and do nothing with our potential??

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By RobF (registered) | Posted February 16, 2015 at 20:37:17 in reply to Comment 109218

Perhaps a hybrid would be a better idea ... add a few councillors to the existing mix who are elected at large. Vancouver city council is elected at large and it is no panacea. The drawbacks are the opposite of the Ward system ... no one is truly responsible for local problems. Too much power is then exerted by campaign donors and other powerful players. As a result, there is a strong feeling that poorly organized, less affluent constituencies (geographic or otherwise) have a harder time getting their issues and needs addressed. Big picture stuff does well, sort of, because council is less obviously parochial.

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted February 16, 2015 at 17:31:46

Fully agree that debates and decisions should be made in the context of the city's vision and objectives. So should evaluation of those decisions later on, to see whether they were the right ones, and if not how they can be rectified or what can be done to bring their outcomes closer to city goals. Otherwise, there's really no point in having a vision and objectives.

One question though - I always understood "To be the best place in Canada to raise a child" as one element... why was it split into two? (though "best place" and "best place to raise a child" are both worthy by themselves or together)

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By H+H (registered) - website | Posted February 16, 2015 at 17:42:28

I have always thought the "be the best place" was a modifier for each of the 4 elements that followed. As a result, I felt it would be best to separate it and define it in a way that made sense for Hamilton. We could use the words as a lead in to each of the 4 elements. To be the best place in Canada to raise a child. To be the best place in Canada to promote innovation. Etc.

I still think separating them into 5 elements would likely make things clearer, but both ways work.

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted February 16, 2015 at 17:51:00 in reply to Comment 109210

Makes sense - the city should aim to be "the best place" in all those areas. Thanks!

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By scrap (anonymous) | Posted February 17, 2015 at 11:37:04

Actions speak louder then words thus in my worldview the Vision Statement model is just that empty words that were not the creation of an entire population.

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By ItJustIs (registered) | Posted February 17, 2015 at 11:53:25

Here's a few questions to consider:

Is it possible that the problem isn’t poor application by Council/Staff, but that the vision is unwieldy?

Were citizens involved in the crafting of this vision? If yes, to what extent? If no, is it safe to say that maybe if there had been citizen involvement, there may have been a broad buy-in, and therefore it might have had a better chance at being used at various levels of executing strategy?

Who was the consultant behind the effort?

How much did the City pay for this person’s contributions?

When helping to craft this statement, were the then-Councillors' hearts in it?

How much deliberation was involved in the process? (How long did it take to come up with the vision?)

How close is Hamilton’s declared vision to Oakville’s: 'To be the most livable town in Canada.’ And what did they pay to come up with theirs?

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By backpedaling (anonymous) | Posted February 17, 2015 at 12:55:00 in reply to Comment 109240

this reeks of hamilton's chronic problem of over analyzing and trying to go back in time by doing more studies etc. We don't need to spend 5 years crafting a new vision and getting nothing done in the meeantime. This one is fine - it just needs to be adhered to.

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By Eggem (anonymous) | Posted February 17, 2015 at 15:22:18

You folks need to wake up already. Council is corrupt and broken. We NEED to organize rallies/ acts of civil disobedience. Human behavior doesn't change without consequences. I am ready to participate in actions that RTH staff back.

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By HamiltonCitizenry (anonymous) | Posted February 19, 2015 at 12:29:40 in reply to Comment 109248

Send an e-mail, if you can, to Actions speak louder than words.

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By Question (anonymous) | Posted February 19, 2015 at 13:07:34 in reply to Comment 109322

What group does that represent?

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By HamiltonCitizenry (anonymous) | Posted February 20, 2015 at 10:12:25 in reply to Comment 109324

Hamilton citizens who want to engage in what Eggem noted: rallies and acts of civil disobedience.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted February 18, 2015 at 00:35:53 in reply to Comment 109248

I am ready to participate in actions that RTH staff back.

All this talk of civil disobedience and action, and yet you want RTH staff to make it happen. Why don't you make it happen?

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By Eggem (anonymous) | Posted February 18, 2015 at 15:17:01 in reply to Comment 109257

I'm no leader, just a follower. All I can think of is egging corrupt councilors, but I'm sure RTH staff would have better ideas, which I'm ready to support.

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By Eggem (anonymous) | Posted February 18, 2015 at 15:15:32 in reply to Comment 109257

I believe RTH staff are leaders, more capable than I. I'm happy to be a follower in any actions they organize. All i can think of is egging corrupt politicians, but its been said that that would be childish.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted February 18, 2015 at 15:30:12 in reply to Comment 109269

"RTH staff." Who would that be?

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By Eggem (anonymous) | Posted February 19, 2015 at 14:10:59 in reply to Comment 109271

I don't know, the RTH writers, Ryan, Kevin, Jason, Nicholas, et al. Folks who have a vision. Maybe they want to focus on writing and not necessarily mobilizing bodies? All I want is to sign up with group that is putting more pressure on, as traditional methods does not seem to work/matter.

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By HamiltonCitizenry (anonymous) | Posted February 20, 2015 at 10:15:03 in reply to Comment 109329

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted February 18, 2015 at 11:43:14

Great work, Graham. You just saved the city a six-figure workshop and report with a strategic consultant by putting that online.

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By Stever (anonymous) | Posted February 18, 2015 at 13:00:25 in reply to Comment 109263

More likely they'll hire a consultant to provide staff workshops, which will be ineffective.

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