Vision - Who's Responsible?
In many organizations, vision planning is thought to be the work of the company's leaders. Ultimately, the leader is responsible. As we mentioned last time, however, there are some interesting and contrasting views regarding where a vision should be created.
Several excellent business authors have done a splendid job of illustrating the major contemporary schools of thought on vision.
Leader initiated vision - Joel Barker, in his excellent video, The Power of Vision, demonstrates that vision is vital to future success, for countries, for schools and children, and for individuals. He concludes the discussion with the importance that vision plays for business organizations. In this context, he summarizes the development of vision as follows:
- The organization’s vision should be developed by the leaders.
- It must be shared and supported by the people in the organization.
- It must be comprehensive and detailed.
- The vision must be compelling. It must be worth the effort.
Personal vision for greatness - In the Empowered Manager, an outstanding book by Peter Block, a contrasting view of vision is presented. Peter writes that it is the personal vision of greatness by individuals that holds the greatest value for the organization. He describes the need to create work places where individuals can live out their visions, based on their most important personal values, in the context of performing their work. This author does not see a lot of utility in leaders creating the “vision” for the company, and then driving it through the organization.
Shared vision - In addressing the potential of creating “learning organizations”, Peter Senge’s renowned book, The Fifth Discipline describes elements and principles needed to keep organizational learning alive and growing. One of the “disciplines” involves building shared vision. This engages the team in creating the vision and purpose for their group, and provokes meaning in the work, as the group seeks to learn and grow toward the preferred future. Peter describes the difference as having a vision that the people want to excel to, as opposed to having a vision that they are told to work toward.
Field of vision - In Margaret Wheatley’s Leadership and the New Sciences, vision is compared to an energy field. As such, she describes it as emerging from within the organization, as a result of the good hearts and work of the people within the enterprise. This view is thought provoking, because it implies that the “vision field” will exist, whether it is meaningful or not. This should provoke us to think about the need to encourage and stimulate the creation of an exciting and compelling “field of vision”, rather than leaving it to chance.
So, who is right? Arguments and opinions can be offered on each front. The truth is, it is in combination that these can become truly powerful.
- Most individuals, when reflecting on the leadership needs of their enterprise, probably hope that their leaders are visionary. Their overarching view of the business horizon, and vision relative to what the company should be doing and investing in for the future, and why, is quite important. For example, the leaders of major semiconductor companies need a vision and purpose about the future. They must direct what can often be billions of dollars of resources to have facilities in place to serve the future market place.
- Most of us, including company leaders, can also see great benefit in having individual employees who possess a personal “vision for greatness” relative to their work and careers. When this is in concert with the vision and mission of the organization, it is a formula for meaningful work for the employee, and outstanding job performance within the company.
- The concept of creating shared vision is the most valuable of the concepts. When this is in concert with the organization’s greater vision/purpose, it is an excellent formula for operational excellence. When a team works together, to sculpt a set of values and a common purpose to guide them, linking their vision to business goals and actions, the end result can be tremendous.
It would seem that each of these themes relative to vision has its place, and in combination they can be extremely powerful.
The Need for Vision
The need for “vision”, or “purpose”, within organizations is very real. Most enterprises are going through major changes, searching for more effective ways to win in their markets, or to more efficiently provide high quality goods and services.
Organizational change is always accompanied by a range of emotional responses by the people who are impacted by the change.
These are commonly described as periods of denial, followed by resistance. These responses are then followed by a period of exploration regarding the possibilities associated with the changes, followed by moving forward toward the future, with the changes. In recognizing that these stages of change will occur, it would be in the best interest of the effected teams if they could move through the unproductive early stages of the cycle as quickly as possible, on to the exploration and acceptance of the change.
Vision, or purpose, is one of the most compelling forces to move a team or individuals through the reaction to change. People tend to deny and resist change to lesser extent when there exists a compelling purpose, or vision, beyond the change.
In many organizations, vision planning is thought to be the work of the company's leaders. There are, however, some interesting and contrasting views regarding where a vision should be created. We will examine these on the next post.
To neglect helping individual teams develop their "vision for greatness" may miss the opportunity to have the teams take ownership in the future of the enterprise.
We will spend a couple of weeks exploring this topic.
On Focus and Vision
There is a lot coming at business leaders today.
- New technologies
- New industries
- New tools
- New emerging markets
- On and on...
It is easy to get distracted. We can find ourselves pulled in too many directions to maintain excellence in all areas.
Vision planning is an important facilitation process that can help groups establish direction for the future. This is an excellent endeavor. Vision that is embraced throughout an organization has a powerful way of helping us stay on track and to measure the quality of our decisions that we make.
Before charging off to set the new vision – where you want to go, it can be useful to concentrate some energy on the question of “where are we now?”
Jim Collins and his team wrote a popular business book – Good to Great. In addressing the challenge of focus, he encouraged companies to consider a Hedgehog Concept.
Collins defined the “hedgehog concept.”
1. What you can be the best at—you should:
- Determine what should be attempted by ability, not ego
- Determine what you cannot be best at
- Keep it simple and straightforward
- You may not be doing it now. Your core business may not be the thing you could be the best in the world at
2. What drives your economic engine—strive to:
- Determine your organization’s single economic denominator
- Understand what the key economic drivers are
- Build your system according to that understanding
3. What you are deeply passionate about—seek to discover:
- What ignites your passion and the passion of those that work with you
- The passion can be found in the mechanics of the work or can be focused on what the company stands for
Collins compared the discovery/definition of these three arenas to moving out of a fog into a clear understanding. That is pretty huge when it comes to knowing what to focus on.
When you can determine where these three areas overlap, you have an excellent idea of where you should be focusing, as a function of where you are now. This can be very useful as you then chart a course towards the future.
This Development Cycle is designed to create behavior change, growth or emergence. Many times we sign our employees up for training classes, workshops or conferences hoping to create positive changes in them or in our business. The events they attend get them “fired up” and excited about new ideas or methods only to have 95% of that forgotten as they get back into the daily challenges, tasks and routines. The Development Cycle I am about to share, was created to address the need for learning, implementation and actual long term change.
When we recognize that individuals, teams or whole organizations are stuck, underdeveloped or unable to fulfill the vision of the organization, we need to first determine what is missing. It could be technical skills, leadership skills or even motivation. Before introducing the employee, team or organization to some sort of catalyst that will provoke change, we need to decide what the ultimate Goals and Outcomes will be. This can be determined through a “pain point” conversation or through a “vision” conversation with the supervisor or leader of the organization. Until you know what specific goal or outcomes are desired, you are shooting blindly at a target and hoping you hit a bulls eye.
Once you have determined the goals and outcomes sought, you need to develop Benchmarks, ways to know that you are making progress. What behaviors will be different or now present after the program is implemented, and how will you measure them? It is important to know this before moving into the Tactical Planning Development stage in order to have a realistic time frame and allotted resources for real change. It is in the planning that you decide the methods for teaching and developing these behavior changes. Will you start with a training course, motivational speaker, or communication strategy to introduce concepts? What about implementing a mentor program where concepts are taught 1 on 1? What other methods can you employ to teach new behaviors? Once the plan is developed, who will execute it? This is where the Development Activity comes into play. One of the methods that I frequently use is to observe behaviors in real life after teaching the concepts in a training environment. The initial training allows me to get group buy-in and excitement. The observations provide deeper explanations and the “how to” of implementation.
The last step of the cycle is Evaluation. Did you achieve your goals and outcomes? What benchmarks were met along the way? This is absolutely critical in order to determine the ROI of your investment in training, time, man power, etc, as well as in modifying your strategies for the next big change.
Sondra , Coach
Soft skills are broadly defined as “the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, friendliness, and optimism that characterize relationships with other people.” Soft skills tend to be a very important complement to the hard skills which are the occupational requirements of a job and many other activities.
Recent research has found that companies are placing increasing focus and investment to develop these “people skills” in leaders/managers and those folks in particular that have a strong technical orientation rather that on people. In other words, it remains important for professionals to know what must be done and the technical aspects of how to get it done, but they must also be able to communicate this effectively and to motivate others in order to achieve excellent results.
Some of the most common soft skills employers seek include:
- Strong Work Ethic—motivation and dedication to getting the job done, no matter what. The desire is for people who will be conscientious and do their best work.
- Positive Attitude—optimism and an upbeat attitude. Good energy and good will tend to be contagious in an organization.
- Good Communication Skills—abilities to be both verbally articulate and a good listener. Professionals need to be able to express observations, interpretations, ideas, and even feelings in a way that builds bridges with colleagues, customers and vendors.
- Spoken communication is important, in all of its forms—face-to-face, presentations, team settings and more.
- Written communication has become super critical, as most groups are very dependent on email and other written forms of information within and outside of the organization. Every time we hit “send,” we are sending an image of our companies.
- Time Management Abilities—prioritization of tasks and work, often on a number of different projects at once. Time is a precious resource that must be used wisely.
- Problem-Solving Skills—resourceful and creative resolution of problems. Professionals are desired to take ownership of problems rather than leave them for someone else.
- Team Play—excellence of work in groups and teams. You can’t do it alone in today’s organizations. Professionals are desired that create and lead a cooperative environment.
- Self-Confidence—belief in one’s ability to get the job done. Pressure is a reality in most organizations. Leaders that project a sense of calm can inspire confidence in others.
- Ability to Accept and Learn from Criticism—the capacity to handle criticism. Receiving coaching well can create opportunities to learning and growth, both as a person and as a professional.
- Flexibility/Adaptability—adaptability to new situations and challenges. Change happens in most organizations at a pace never before seen in business. Professionals and leaders are needed who will embrace change and new ideas as paths to opportunities.
- Working Well Under Pressure—handling the stress that accompanies deadlines and crises. Pressure and stress can both motivate or harm an organization. People who perform with excellence, even doing their best work under pressure, are highly prized in today’s workforce.
The list above is not exhaustive. Here are a few other categories that we often see hiring groups focus on when interviewing candidates. In a hiring or interview context, techniques that utilize “open-ended questions” engage applicants in sharing from their personal experiences and past behaviors, how they utilize “soft skills” in accomplishing work.
- Decision making—using a range of options and processes to reach key decisions
- Leadership—influencing others
- Organizational skill
- Managing change—not just adapting to change, but being able to lead change
- Valuing diversity
This has become so important for organizations that ATC is now developing a soft skills assessment approach that can help you evaluate the GAP between where you are now and where you desire the organization to be. A paper-and-pencil survey is not always the path for evaluating these critical skills.
Stay tuned for updates on this important topic.
Best wishes for a successful 2010,