Vision and mission. We all know they are basic foundations of building an effective team. Sometimes we think we’re clear about them, we check a box for each, and we move on. We may think, “Ok, we have a vision and mission, so now we can get to the actual work to be done.” But a vision that makes clear a compelling future, one that brings all levels of the organization together, one that creates momentum and buy-in across all parts of the organization, is actually quite hard to develop.
So how do you create a powerful vision your whole organization will work hard to achieve? And how does a genuinely compelling vision make a difference?
Take this vision for example: “Lean is the way we lead and work”. What does this even mean? Can you visualize this? How does the work of any one person in the organization connect to it? With this particular “vision,” I can’t answer any of these questions. It’s too vague and there’s nothing compelling about it because it doesn’t tell us anything. It’s also a missed opportunity to unite staff members around a common purpose they can understand.
By comparison, consider this vision: “I can visually see every employee at all levels actively problem solving.” Do you know what that means? Can you visualize it? Can you get a feel for how everyone’s work in the organization might connect to it? Notice, this vision is specific and compelling. Who doesn’t want to actively solve problems and have their team members do the same? It’s something you can actually visualize, and it’s also aspirational. People can connect with it, rally toward it, and find meaning in it. This vision helps people connect what they do every day to the future of the organization.
Now, let’s consider the likely results from the these two approaches?
With the first vision – how do we make Lean the way we lead and work – there are no clear next steps. People will spend years trying to figure this out, just to discover there wasn’t a shared understanding in the first place. I doubt much progress around the real work and goals of the organization, if any, will be made.
With the second vision – every employee problem solving – the goal state is obvious. You can ask yourself what the current state is (is every employee problem solving today?), and then ask why/why not. If they are problem solving actively, great, how do you sustain those activities and behaviors and that kind of organizational culture? If people aren’t problem solving, why not? What are the barriers? Do they understand what problem solving really means? Do they have the tools and knowledge to do so? Do they have the support do so? Once you know these things, then you can think about ways to close that gap. If we want to talk continuous improvement, one path is far clearer.
And just as a human being, which journey would you want to be on? Whether or you’re leading a team or leading yourself, being a visionary should never mean being vague.
Hollie Jensen is currently developing and implementing a Lean Fellowship and Leadership program with the State of Washington.