Entries in vision tips (1)
Sunday, January 15, 2012 at 03:40PM
An organization’s vision can be a tremendously powerful lever for performance. That is, when it’s crafted well.
What gives vision statements a bad name is when a small, select group of executives go off-site to a fun resort and come up with a one- to four-sentence summary of what they talked about and ultimately agreed upon. And then they laminate it on wallet-sized cards and put up posters of it in each conference room, fully expecting employees to resonate with it, and fall in line completely behind it.
I’ve seen this process fail time after time. And it’s raised a level of cynicism and inaction in organizations on every continent, in every imaginable industry.
So exactly what does it take to build a vision that’s a powerful engine for organizational performance? Let’s start by taking a look at what I mean by vision. An organizational vision describes an unprecedented, highly optimistic desired future state or remarkable achievement. A vision should help energize people, inspire them to help achieve it, and focus their efforts.
An example was when Colin Marshall, then president of British Airways (while many passengers and travel agents alleged that BA stood for “bloody awful”) declared that the company would become the world’s premier airline. And the airline employees made extraordinary improvements.
Here are four tips to help you boost the impact of your organization’s vision.
1. Consciously consider the context you’re operating in, in a group setting. Sure, you want to set those stretch targets, and be uninhibited by current obstacles in your path. And you SHOULD want to set those stretch targets. But don’t make the mistake of failing to formally take a look at the context around you, or you might miss some great opportunities. Ask questions like, “Is there an industry ecosystem that we’re part of that’s evolving, whose characteristics we need to consider in OUR evolution?” “What are our organization’s awesome strengths that we need to capitalize on going forward?” “Are there elements of our current obstacles that we could turn to our advantage?” “How do we want to shape – not just react to – the industry we’re a part of and the greater world around us?”
And I’ve also found it helpful to consider these questions, and have associated conversations, in a group setting with leaders from various disciplines in the organization. It’s like everyone has a piece of the jigsaw puzzle, and being in one room helps get the puzzle assembled quickly. The back and forth that goes on in such conversations helps strengthen everyone’s understanding of the situation, and helps build a common, shared understanding of the challenges and opportunities ahead. Without the collective, public conversations that people can build on, all we have are individual thoughts inside people's heads. Because these internal thoughts are not connected with other thoughts, and top leaders aren't sure if there's agreement on the critical issues, the organization loses a great deal of leverage in building an effective vision.
2. Engage people’s creative side, not just their analytical side. The vision development work should not just be performed in a sterile, analytical, serious environment. Use pictures and images in creative ways to prompt, and deepen conversations. Use stories and metaphors as conversational stepping stones to get from the current state to a better future one.
Keep in mind that there’s a lot of science behind the notion that people having fun can more easily step outside their day-to-day concerns and be innovative. So by all means, create an environment for lightheartedness, experimentation, non-judgment, and fun. In his book Serious Play, innovation thought leader Michael Schrage contends that, “You can’t be a serious innovator unless you are willing and able to play.”
3. Quickly link the vision to a strategy, goals, and execution plan. Don’t just let the vision sit there. The vision only tells what remarkable impact you want to have on the world. To keep that vision from being merely an hallucination, you’ll need to say how you plan to make it happen, and set up measurable goals and action plans to drive activity at all levels of the organization.
While all this linking doesn’t need to all be done in one session, top leaders should at least agree on a timetable – in the near future – where there will be a follow-up strategy, goals, and execution plans developed.
4. Design and plan for the vision’s communication and roll-out. A great vision that resides only on conference room wall posters and laminated wallet cards never did any company any good. It has to be in people’s heads and hearts also.
To do this, there needs to be a plan to disseminate the content of the vision, as well as some of the assumptions and background conversations that helped shaped the vision. These will be necessary for people to understand the vision, talk about it with others in the organization, and get energized about trying to achieve it.
The good news is that many of the stories, metaphors, and images that were used to help develop the vision (step 2 above) may be quite useful in communicating it to the workforce.
The above provide some practical tips for building a truly powerful vision that an organization can get energized for, and then achieve.