As I continue to discuss planning, a common item that comes out of strategic planning is a vision statement. These statements are usually repeated frequently in posters and speeches. I recall in Senge’s Fifth Discipline, one of the key disciplines of a learning organization is shared vision. I think that is why the vision statement gets lots of press inside an organization.
However we all have the common experience that these vision statements sound very hollow. I think the reason is that they are not shared in the sense of me owning the vision, the vision is shared in the sense that my boss is sharing it with me by telling me his or his bosses vision. I think that Senge meant that we all share a vision. I am sure we all do have a vision but it is a far cry from the official vision statement.
One of these vision type statements that one organization had was to be the best employer in their industry. I would think that would mean that satisfied employees would be a high priority. I think those things are not preached but practiced by example right from the top. In that organization I saw no evidence that this vision was practiced at any level.
Senior management would love to find a way of developing a shared vision throughout the organization. I think that is one of the most difficult things. Maybe the BHAG, the Big Hairy Audacious Goal, might qualify or at least the criterion of being simple, compelling and demonstrated. (See a previous blog)
Shared vision often exists in the underlying assumptions of an organization. These assumptions are often unspoken and run deeper than the culture. The only way you can discern these assumptions is to watch what an organization does rather than listen to what they say. Even then it is hard because these assumptions may not be a consistent set. Underlying assumptions that conflict can really cause an organization to sabotage itself. An example of an underling assumption might be we must make a profit at all cost. Nobody would admit that but often it is there if you watch what people do.
When an organization is stressed by hard times, their real character and vision are revealed. Not always fun to watch.