“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don't much care where –" said Alice.
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat.
"– so long as I get somewhere," Alice added as an explanation.
"Oh, you're sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough."
Even though enough has been written on the importance of vision to fill a library, it is still a critical missing element in many organizations. I didn't fully understand this concept when I first started as a Plant Manager; I dealt with issues as they came up, and assumed everyone knew what their job was and just needed to be encouraged to do it to the best of their ability. We had meetings to align departmental objectives and the senior staff worked together to get new products while cutting costs, and we had the usual squabbles about departmental turf. Compared to our sister plants, our performance was in the top of the pack and I thought we were doing pretty well. But in retrospect, the departments were working in silos and I did not have a vision of what I wanted the organization to strive to be. Like Alice, everyone was going somewhere, we just weren't going anywhere together.
A year and a half into my assignment they announced that our plant was to be closed or sold, and we knew we had to do something to take control of our own future. At that point we enlisted the aid of a consultant and developed a simple vision/rallying cry ‘Secure the future’, with a subset of guiding principles. For the first time, every department had a common framework to evaluate all decisions – Was it going to help us find a buyer for the plant or wasn't it? Improving manufacturing performance, reducing overhead, and assembling information on all our equipment were top priorities. Anything that wouldn't be important to a potential buyer was put on hold. The power of a common mission/vision could be felt throughout the plant, and we were all making decisions for the entire plant, not just by department.
The real reason you need a vision is that it sets the direction for your entire organization, or department, or team. Personally, I like the simple way that Mike Rother, author of ‘Toyota Kata’, puts it –
“Without a direction we tend to evaluate proposals individually on their own merits, rather than as part of striving toward something. This creates that back-and-forth, hunting-for-a-solution, whomever-is-currently-most-persuasive effect in the organization… those endless discussion meetings that all of us are tired of.
I was asking a younger colleague recently about the vision of her organization, and how it impacted her motivation to go to work. Her response – “Seriously? Some mornings I sit in my car in the parking lot and ask myself why am I going to work today? And then I remember – I have rent to pay!”
If you don’t create a compelling vision for your organization, your unspoken vision may very well be ‘We have rent to pay !’
Justin Noll is the owner of Advanced Knowledge Consulting and a Principal Partner in LEEP (www.experienceLEEP.com). His area of expertise is continuous improvement and team development.