Monday, June 2, 2003

Vision exercise, a shared experience

NOTE. This article first came out in The Manila Times - Business Times Section, and also at the website:

“VISION isn’t a template in PowerPoint,” says Roger Mc-Namee, founder of Silver Lake Partners and Integral Capital Partners.

A company’s vision is a shared aspiration of all the people in your organization. It is that idea or image that binds you and your people together and compels you to support and care for one another. It fosters belonging and ownership.

A shared vision creates a common identity for your organization and your employees. It is meant for the people in the organization, the environment, the processes, the management and leadership not just for the products and services.

Authors John Clemmer and Art McNeil wrote in their book, Leadership Skills for Every Manager that “Vision gives meaning where meaning is lacking, and it enhances meaning where meaning already exists. Vision reaches hungrily out to the future and drags it into the present. Vision is proof positive that the spi-ritual side of mankind will not be denied.”

A vision is a shared commitment to one purpose for the long haul. It is said that the Japanese believes that building a great organization is like growing a tree; it takes 25 to 50 years.

A shared vision energizes the whole organization. Peter Senge in his book, The Fifth Discipline said, “Visions are exhilarating. They create the spark, the excitement that lifts an organization out of the mundane.” Senge further writes: “Shared visions emerge from personal visions. This is how they derive their energy and how they foster commitment.”

Bill O’Brien of Hanover Insurance observes, “My vision is not what’s important to you. The only vision that motivates you is your vision. It is not that people care only about their personal self-interest–in fact; people’s personal visions usually include dimensions that concern family, organization, community and even the world.” O’Brien is stressing that caring is personal. It is rooted in an individual’s own set of values, concerns, and aspirations. This is why genuine caring about a shared value is rooted in personal visions. This simple truth is lost on many leaders, who decide that their organization must develop a vision by tomorrow.

Employees who have no personal ambitions will simply work for salary or wages. They will just be marking time, turning in mediocre results and bootlicking to move or stay on. They don’t go beyond their job description. Once they find their comfort zone in the company, you can’t make them budge. You’ll recognize them by their words: We’ve never done it before. We’ve been doing it this way for 40 years. It won’t work here. It’s too radical a change. It is not my job. It’s not our problem. We’d lose money on it. We don’t have the equipment. We don’t have the time. It is impossible. We need to form a committee.

Employees whose personal visions are congruent to that of the organization’s vision are empowered and creative; not stifled and consi-dered just hired hands. Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s famous quotation rings true, “A rockpile ceases to be a rockpile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.”

So how do you make your employees dream, collect these dreams and distill them into one corporate vision? By reflection, listening and conversation. That is why you can’t manage your organization sitting down in your office and focusing on financial reports. You need to walk around.

First, being the owner and founder of your company, clarify your own aspirations, the reason you went into business and your enterprise or industry’s overarching reason for existence. Senge wrote, “Every telecommunication organization, for example, is tied in some way to Alexander Graham Bell’s sense of the purpose for the telephone system: a vehicle for universal communication. Every medical and pharmaceutical organization is tied to the purpose of improving human health.”

Second, you don’t go to your employees and tell them that you’ve come up with your own company vision and you want to share it with them. That is not shared vision; rather it is a “dictated” vision that will be forgotten soon after you thank them for listening to you.

Third, you and your company leaders engage your employees in thinking through their own visions. This could be in formal or informal settings. If you have few employees, you can simply hang out with them during break times and start them talking about their personal aspirations. This is the time consuming part of visioning.

Some topics of conversation would be: What competencies (knowledge, skills, values and attitudes) do you enjoy using? What are you enthusiastic and passionate about in your job? How and where do you want to use your competencies? What are your favorite interests or special competencies? What is your preferred working environment? What kind of people you want to work with? What kind of product or service do you want to help create? Where do you want to work?

Finally, gather a few representative employees to a formal or informal meeting to create a shared vision and write a vision statement.

Senge, in his book, guides us through the creative process of visioning with questions such as: What would you personally like to see your organization become, for its own sake? What kinds of customers could it have or products or services could it produce? What sorts of processes might it conduct? What reputation would it have? What contribution would it make? What values would it embody? What mission would it have? What would its physical environment look like? How would people work together and handle good and bad times? If you had this sort of organization, what would it bring you? How would it allow your personal vision to flourish?

Your job of leading your organization has just begun. Your next step is to spread and reinforce the vision.

World Peace. Will Durant said, “To give life meaning, one must have a purpose larger than oneself.” Contribute to world peace by helping extend life. Join my son, wherever you are, to make it a personal birthday present to donate blood via the Red Cross. He does it every year on May 28. I am proud of you, son.

Ms. Moje Ramos-Aquino is president of Paradigms and Paradoxes Corp and helps companies develop shared vision. She awaits your feedback at moje@mydes­

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