• Search

Visioning Exercise: A glimpse of a possible future

Visioning as taught by Ari Weinzweig and Zingerman’s

It was at Zingerman’s in Ann Arbor when we were introduced to the practice of visioning. Ari Weinzweig, Co-Founding Partner of Zingerman’s, has written, spoken, and educated others about how to create a vision for themselves over the years. Not just a theoretical notion, Ari has shown over and over the power visioning can have on a person or an organization. In fact, Ari established this practice at the heart of Zingerman’s culture. 

Visioning changed Ari’s life and altered the course of Zingerman’s. He opened Zingerman’s Delicatessen with partner Paul Saginaw in 1982 with two employees. Today, Zingerman’s is a nationally recognized food icon, with over ten businesses, 750 employees and over $55 million in annual revenue. 

The ways in which Ari and his team crafted his organization have become models others in various industries desire to emulate. He shares these teachings in his books (A Lapsed Anarchist’s Approach to Building a Great Business (Part 1), Being a Better Leader (Part 2), Managing Ourselves (Part 3) and the newly-released Part 4, The Power of Beliefs in Business), public speaking opportunities, and through teachings at ZingTrain, the organizational and corporate training arm of Zingerman’s business. 

Visioning is one of these practices. Visioning is a description of the future as if you are already there. It’s when you get to success in a particular point in time and you describe what that success will feel like, be like, sound like. The practice sets more than just a goal: it frames time so that it becomes an investment into what we want to create. It helps to curtail our tendencies to be in a constant state of reaction and ensures we are acting with intention. In short, visioning helps us to position time as a source of positivity, abundance, and beauty.  

Co-visioning with Paul Jones

Paul Jones is a native of Grand Rapids, and a retiree of Steelcase, after 37 years of service. Throughout his career, Paul was known for the way he inspired his co-workers and direct reports to think in terms of creating a purpose for their lives and work. Always with an intention to help people see the potential opportunities around them, he and his wife, Diane, sponsor a monthly speaker series at University of Michigan’s Center for Positive Organizations, where guests learn how to apply positive business practices in their lives and professions.

Paul and Diane also started a local Positive Business forum with a group of diverse, but like-minded individuals, who are interested in thriving in the workplace and inspiring others to do so as well. Paul has a passion for mentoring college students and young professionals and continues to work with local colleges and universities in retirement. 

Paul and Rajiv met at a Mapping Ourselves workshop led by Rajiv and hosted by Ari at ZingTrain. Since then, Paul has been an active collaborator in the trajectory of Atlas.

Recently, they worked together to experiment with an idea: what would a company look, feel, sound like if it incorporated the Mapping Ourselves program into the cultural fabric of its organization? How would employees interact? How would leadership become more agile? How would the sense of belonging become amplified? This is what emerged:


Celebrating the Transformative Impact of Knowing Ourselves

By Rajiv Mehta & Paul Jones

It’s a warm fall evening as we welcome our employees and their families to our 10th anniversary celebration of the opening of our company “Wellbeing Center.” We continue to be amazed at our progress and give thanks to our leadership for reframing our mindset of “wellness” to that of “wellbeing,” more than 10 years ago.

Initially our efforts were limited to advice and encouragement on individual-focused physical and mental health activities (diet, exercise, mindfulness, etc.) A catalyst towards a more holistic approach was a major office redesign a year later, through which we came to realize how big a role the work environment played on employee wellbeing. 

The next big change came in 2020, as Covid forced us to note that despite our best efforts, we’d barely budged the needle on employee wellbeing, and we realized that just doing more of the same in an even more challenging environment made little sense. As important, the social awakening of the time made us appreciate that “inclusion and belonging” was inseparable from “wellbeing”; employees had to feel a sense of belonging to be able to thrive. 

We have long embraced the value of deep practices such as Design Thinking and Agile. Wanting to put more emphasis on developing and supporting our people, we actively looked for a similarly rich concept that would help our employees work together on wellbeing.

We found our answer with Atlas of Care, and their Mapping Ourselves program, that teaches employees visual tools and the practice of Personal Science. Using these practices, our employees now “see the invisible” and are better equipped to manage their physical, mental, and social lives, both at work and at home. Our employees now feel closer to each other than ever before.

Just yesterday, a person from marketing stopped by the Center to let us know how Mapping Ourselves had opened her eyes to the level of support provided by her manager and co-workers. She has been in our city and at our company for two years, and had felt that she did not have a strong bond to her new community. Not only was she far from family and friends, she was also a person-of-color in a predominantly white department with a sense of not being part of the team. However, after she and her coworkers drew, shared and discussed their Atlas CareMaps, she realized how close she had become to the people at work. “They’re not just co-workers, they’re friends…in fact they’re ‘family’. I had not noticed that this was now my ‘home’.” She is now finding life outside of work to be more fulfilling as well.

We know that having good energy is key to how well our employees are able to engage at work. Research has shown that every interaction with another person either increases or decreases our energy level. Employees at all levels are reporting that when they observe their conversations over time (using Atlas’s Conversations tool), they have been able to see the impact different conversations are having on their energy level. It’s not unusual for people to request some coaching on how to approach certain conversations they know will be difficult. 

Recently, one employee commented that: “Not only is my energy level maintained, but the outcomes of my conversations are now more positive and productive.” Employees now recognize the interactions amongst different aspects of life. Our company dietitian commented that when he meets with employees who want to work on their weight, he recommends they use the Body Connection tool to help them stay attuned to how both their mind and body feel throughout the day, and to reflect on why this might be. The feedback has been amazing. Here’s one example: 

 “Just after my supervisor was promoted to a new position, I started to gain weight and felt low on energy. I used the Body Connection tool, changing it a bit to add a couple of other data points, and soon discovered that I was grieving her departure and wasn’t aware that I’m such an emotional eater. I also paid attention to how I was spending my time with the Daily Activities tool, and discovered that one project in particular was causing a lot of anxiety, and correlated to poor eating. This self-awareness helped me get my diet back on track. Now I feel so much better, both emotionally and physically. I can bring my whole self to work.” 

Our facilities team quickly made extensive use of the Environment and Daily Activities tools, and tailored these tools to better meet their needs. The tools allow individuals to observe the different physical environments they use over the course of several days. They record what they discover to better understand how the physical surroundings impact their sense of wellbeing. We have been able to use it to capture rich information about employee experiences with our environments, leading to continuous improvements. 

Our employees love how we openly share how each of us experiences the environment uniquely and how we have addressed these differences to optimize satisfaction, wellbeing and productivity. While the Wellbeing Center was a hit almost from the start, the introduction of the Atlas of Care methodology and tools took employee engagement to a new level. It has helped us to better observe, visualize, analyze, and make the needed adjustments to better manage ourselves and the many different teams and communities to which we belong. For example, when we form a new team, we use the Social Network tool to envision an ideal team from the perspective of each key member. The tool helps us ensure the right balance of team strengths, identify potential resource constraints or other concerns, engage the people involved, and communicate our plan to leadership in a visually appealing format.

The practice of Personal Science has become embedded in our culture. Across the organization, from the c-suite to entry-level, people are adept at collecting data and creating useful diagrams to explore all sorts of work and personal topics beyond the core Mapping Ourselves tools. This has had impacts big and small. 

One employee, a disabled veteran, paying close attention to things that caused him some anxiety, was able to explain to his co-workers little changes they could make that would make things better for him, and to mitigate his own reactions. A senior executive commented on how she had explored the differences between productive and deeply unproductive meetings. By noting topic, people, and times of day, she made various adjustments that have dramatically increased her team’s productivity. The widespread familiarity and comfort with Personal Science has made it easy for people to describe, get help on, and spread such innovations.

Our celebration is off to a strong start. I’ve already heard many supportive and encouraging comments by our executive team. It’s clear they value the investment made in both the Wellbeing Center and in Mapping Ourselves. I know that employee engagement has a bright future.





Except where noted, this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.