Monday 25 March 2013

Of Visions and Vision statements

Controlling for meaningful results versus navigating for sustainability, this epitomises the conundrum that most organisations are embroiled in, quite often without knowing it. It is interesting as individuals and organisations constantly face this question, do they do what is important to survive or do they chart their own course on ambitious and worthy goals, by defining their vision and committing to achieving those. Quite often these two are seen interchangeably, whereas in reality while they maybe in action simultaneously but they are different paradigms and often require a different focus. Organisations mostly want to work from the paradigm of controlling for meaningful results. But often they end up with the desire to grow, to maximise growth and meet targets set therein, quietly sliding into the navigating for sustainability mode with the meaningful impact left at the mercy of the inevitable trickle-down effect.
This happens as the dynamic internal and external environments they end up dealing with, involve a number of controllable, partially controllable and uncontrollable variables; a number of which were not factored, partially or wholly factored in their plans. Inevitably it results in a hugely complex operation, where most people lose sight of what they want to achieve and why; by this time the organisational entity has grown to a certain size and with people dependent on its survival, before you know it this becomes a struggle for survival and a vehicle to meet targets in terms of what aligns most people’s interest, personal gains in economic and status terms.  Something which translates into vision statements of creating value (read wealth), being number one/most respected in the industry (status), or have everyone hold their product or avail their service (egocentrism), etc.
Most organisations thereafter struggle to develop and commit to a true vision, many of them embark on an envisioning exercise to meet up with business norms; to others it is sold by external consultants with a promise to align employee interest and action.  Even most leadership programmes and strategic planning workshops end up giving people the same message that great leaders and great organisations are driven by great visions, so people driven to make such leaders or companies are searching for the great vision that will put them on the path to greatness and eventually enable them to be such.
Generally there are consultants, think tanks and focus groups that are given the task to come up with something worthy that would appear to provide a company/organisation with the overarching vision that the management wishes to promulgate in their attempt to inspire the employee population to give their best for generating sales, profit, growth and goodwill.
The reality ofcourse is that a true vision is what we would like the future to be and what role we would like to play in its creation, whereas quite often it takes on the shape of what we think the vision should be so that people feel strongly about driving growth, profitability and goodwill. The goal is not the vision, and sales, profitability and goodwill are not enablers, but rather the other way around. The vision is seen as a tool to drive growth and profitability.
There is a fundamental mismatch, which is often ignored by planners, organisations' management for their own detriment and for that of society. The reason that drives the larger swathe of employees to turn up for work and towards achievement is within the realm of personal gain, it is the money that allows them to secure and look after their families, it is the status that allows them to feel secure and adequate amongst their peers, it the achievement that brings them fame and glory and gives them the hope of being immortalised in the annals of history and thus provides them the psychological positive regard that the mind seeks. Most often vision planners choose to see these differently and ignore the importance of this reality and its integral relevance to the vision and chances of its success.
Most often visions are created too far after the vehicle aimed at achieving the vision is created. Which is ironical for the raison d’ĂȘtre would usually be expected to precede the ‘being’, of course notwithstanding and giving due to the fact that it might take time in identifying and articulating the vision explicitly and the need to do so.
But the reality is that the vision is not seen as the raison d’etre but rather a tool aimed to be used by management to secure commitment and generate loyalty and to instill pride amongst the people who work for entity in question.
Most visions are either please-all statements, or they are simple goals statements recast in a language that makes them sound more than they are. Vision statements are often about what companies want to become rather than a future they want to contribute to create, an inspiring future. Ofcourse goes without saying, if that is the case chances are that it either hangs somewhere adorning office walls where almost everyone, except perhaps first time visitors, don’t even register its presence; or it only finds mention only in financial and other company documents, often glazed over without any time or attention accorded to it.
It is often stated that the Vision needs to be owned by the employees, vision is not something one owns and discards as desired by others, it is an extremely personal view that stems from beliefs in relation to a worthy overarching goal or aspiration relating to what you want the world to be. We need for every person and organisation to create a compelling vision for the world, wherein we derive the vision for the organisation and for self from there.
A great deal about vision and such statements was presented in the book ‘Built to Last’ and the understanding of James Collins, Jerry Porras expressed in the HBR article Building your companies vision in 2007. They have provided great ideas, examples and a framework for the business world elucidating the importance of powerful visions, the creation of it and developing statements that attempt to capture it. Core Values, Ideologies, Envisioned Future, BHAG (Big-Hairy-Audacious-Goals), Vivid description form part of that framework and give further understanding of its components and requirements.
Ofcourse as time goes by, and our understanding of the world shifts we need to keep working with our vision, embedding new learning in order to keep up with emergent developing perspectives.
For the moment ask yourselves this, is your company/organisation one of the many, which has owing to the successful advocacy for the importance of having a vision as a key component of successful companies or as default management practice, prescribed and put in print what is approved as a vision statement (particularly driven by top management)? Or are you in a company that has a future defined in detail and that picture depicts an improved world that you feel compelled towards creating?

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