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.