Tsh Tutorial Series - Five Steps for Creating Effective Visions
Creating a vision is one of the most challenging tasks undertaken by a team or organization. 'Vision' in this context refers not to a few simple phrases, but rather the complete articulation of the future state - the values, processes, structure, technology, job roles, and environment.
The question is, what steps can I take to create an effective and actionable vision for my organization?
This module presents some basic steps you can take to create an effective vision for your organization.
1. Cast your team carefully.
You cannot do it alone. Effective visions are created when the right combination of individuals come together to form an optimistic and energized team. The team should include:
· Individuals who understand the business
· Outsiders - individuals who are objective toward your business and the outcome (they may have no understanding of the current processes, systems, etc.)
· a few technical gurus
· some people who work closely with customers
· your customers and suppliers
· executives and front-line employees
Most importantly, you want the team to be able to work well together. Look for team members who are:
- good team players
- open minded and optimistic
- well respected in the organization
2. Clearly define your project scope and objectives.
Don't solve a problem that is not yours to solve. Effective visions are created when clear objectives exist, and the scope for the project is well defined and understood. Teams often find themselves producing a great vision for something more than they were asked to take on, and as a result cannot act on that vision. By defining your objectives and scope clearly, the energies of your team are directed and focused on a vision that you can implement.
Define your scope and boundaries clearly. Define your boundaries from a "process" perspective clearly stating where your process begins, and where your process ends. Describe what is included, and what is not included in the project, including the organizations and systems involved, and list those not involved. Draw the scope of your project, and be sensitive to "scope creep" - the tendency of a team to take on more and more as the project proceeds.
In addition to clearly defining the scope, state clearly, also, your project objectives. Address operational objectives, customer objectives, and any objectives related to reduced cycle time, reduced defects or improved quality. Describe how you will "measure success" for each objective. Ensure that the team is well-grounded in the business issues that are driving the project. State how you will know when you are done.
3. Build profound knowledge in your team.
What you know right now is usually not enough. Effective visions are created when the team develops profound knowledge about the business, your customers, your associates and best practices of competitors and non-competitors.
Learning is a step often overlooked by new teams, especially when they are faced with short schedules and are told to produce results fast. In urgent situations, teams often want to take what they already know and go with it. The desire to brainstorm a solution, design it and implement it will be strong with many teams.
Breakthrough visions will not result from rushing head-on into ad hoc brainstorming sessions. Breakthrough visions come from reaching beyond what we "know" today - and even beyond “what we don't know." Breakthrough thinking comes from discovering the world beyond our current beliefs and paradigms - beyond what we know today. We must break down our current reality and eliminate our current assumptions. There is more to be learned in the space of what we "don't know we don't know" than in the totality of what we "know." In this greater space breakthroughs are found.
To reach into this greater space, learning must proceed thinking. You must seek out a true understanding of customers, associates, competitors and technology. It is essential that you listen to the voice of your customers. Talk to them and understand their future direction. Do the same with your associates. What do they hear from customers? What are their wants and needs? What are barriers that prevent them from excellence every day?
The practices and direction of your competitors and non-competitors must be well researched and understood, usually through processes like benchmarking. You must immerse yourself in future technologies, the trends and possibilities - even the unlikely possibilities. Technologies can make possible what before was not possible.
What you must create is a foundation for creative thinking, and this foundation cannot be created in one day of brainstorming. The foundation is developed through learning together as a team.
4. Stand in the future
Get unstuck from today. Effective visions are created when a team can stand in the future and look back, rather than stand in the present and look forward. Charles E. Smith coined this process the "Merlin Factor" in his 1994 article "The Merlin Factor: Leadership and Strategic Intent" (Business Strategy Review). The excerpt below captures this thinking.
from the story about King Arthur by T.H White …
" Ah yes, Merlin said, … Now ordinary people are born forwards in Time, if you understand what I mean, and nearly everything in the world goes forward too. This makes it quite easy for people to live, … but unfortunately I was born at the wrong end of time and I have to live backwards from in front, while surrounded by a lot of people living forward from behind."
Smith writes, "The Merlin factor is the process whereby leaders transform themselves and the culture of their organization through a creative commitment to a radically different future."
"Merlin-like leaders start with a personal vision of the organization's future that is predicated on assumptions which violate the shared reality of its existing culture."
Our condition is naturally living forward from today. When creating visions, this condition is a barrier to breakthrough thinking even in the presence of profound knowledge. Often times we are so rooted in our current processes, systems and culture - the way we live now - that we find it difficult to create a "new" vision for our organization.
We need to project ourselves into the future, like the Merlin character. This magical feat is actually accomplished through imagination. Imagine the future as it could be - as you want it to be, and then describe what you see. When this exercise is performed with a team, in this future they will see world-class processes, culture, technology, people and performance.
In other words, look "back" from your success and see what obstacles you had to overcome to get there. Talk as if you were in the future and were reflecting back on what you did to achieve success. The secret of this approach is that, when looking from the start, you see all the alternatives, with no clear guidance as to how to make choices; but when looking back from the future, you can devise a path back to the present -- perhaps not the only path, but a workable one with obvious obstacles that WERE overcome.
5. Create a principle-centered vision
Effective visions are created when they are rooted in guiding principles. Guiding principles are the tenets or beliefs that the team has uncovered about the needs in their business that drive them towards their vision.
Teams often represent their vision as a new process or system, or perhaps a new organizational design. Much to their dismay, these solutions, processes and systems are changed multiple times during implementation, and some teams see their original vision altered, sometimes even damaged beyond repair. They are even more disappointed when they see the original intent of those designs lost in the shuffle of implementation.
"Intent" lies beyond the diagrams, processes and system architectures. Intent represents the basic values and beliefs the team applied, perhaps unconsciously, to create the vision - the guiding principles by which they made decisions and trade-offs. A common pitfall is not articulating these guiding principles that represent their intent. Many teams not only do not articulate these principles to those outside their team, they fail to make them clearly known and agreed within their team. As a result, the process designs, organizational designs, and other elements that make up the future-state lack a solid foundation, and are not lasting.
Before you craft the details around new processes, systems and organizations, agree on those guiding principles that are fundamental and enduring around your vision. Use these guiding principles as a compass for your designs. Guide your team and the implementation with a principle-centered vision that can survive the turbulence of implementation, and also serve as common ground for future discussions and decision making.
Effective and actionable visions are created when:
- the right combination of individuals come together to form an optimistic and energized team
- clear objectives exist and the scope for the project is well defined and understood
- the team develops profound knowledge about the business, customers, associates and best practices of competitors and non-competitors
- the team can stand in the future and look back, rather than stand in the present and look forward
- the vision is rooted in a set of guiding principles
Haitt is the Author of "Winning With Quality" and "Employee's Survival Guide to Change"