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The importance of vision - mastering continuity and change

This article is part of a series designed to help enterprises become leaner. We’re partnering with Lean Enterprise co-author, Barry O’Reilly, to host executive roundtable sessions in London and Berlin, as well as an event in Helsinki, Lean Rocks all during February. Futurice and Barry will be offering bespoke training and workshops with clients in Helsinki during February.

The product vision sets the direction and guides the agile team. It is the overarching goal and reason for the work everyone in the team must share.

But what is the role of a company vision in becoming a leaner enterprise and why is the vision too often somewhat - distorted?

Surprisingly, when most of the management paradigms seem to be questioned in the era of digital, the importance of a vision remains. In 1996 Collins and Parras described vision as an ability to manage continuity and change.

Do I really need one?

Even today, vision is an important driver for strategic change in mature organizations. The connection between vision and performance is convincing according to Baum, Locke and Kirkpatrick (1998). CEOs with no vision performed significantly worse than CEOs with a vision.

CEOs are not the only ones needing an envisioned future. According to Gallup, only 5% of employees are in the “sweet spot” – engaged at work. When the pace is faster and more and more needs to be done in a shorter cycle, being busy in executing tasks and projects employees lose a sense of purpose.

Destination - future

A vision shows what the company wishes to be its desired future state – it is both concrete, vivid, a dream and an aspiration. Instead of the term vision, you might have heard BHAGs (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals), vivid descriptions (pictures, stories) or mission commands.

Mission Command is the military term for an ability to decentralize control. An idea that fits well into an agile organization. The command is based on the idea that the commander respects and trusts their subordinates’ judgment. The commander’s focus is on intent rather than tasks. This requires that everyone has a shared understanding of the environment, expectations and risks.

Philosophical heartbeat & futures thinking

Vision works when it has a clear finish line. It gives employees a focal point of effort. And if you’ve achieved the vision, you need a new one.

Collins and Parras suggest that vision should require 10 to 30 years to complete and 50-70% probability of success.

Unfortunately, in the dynamic business environment, it has become harder and harder to predict where things are heading and which players will win with what and when. Forecasting a clear picture of how the world looks in 30 years isn’t the easiest task but still a critical building block for a vision.

Another must do is to understand your company’s philosophical core. The core is something you can only discover not invent by defining statements. This is also a reason why companies struggle in their journey towards becoming a lean enterprise.

Tips for creating a compelling vision:

  1. Understand your company’s philosophical core. This is a bit difficult to explain but have a look at this one minute Paris vs New York video. At the end of this post, there are a couple of useful exercises to help identify your company’s core ideology regardless of whether you are from Paris, New York - or Mars.
  2. Words have no value unless they evoke behaviors and emotions. Your colleagues and supervisors daily behaviors connect words to meanings. Read more about the importance of “show and tell” from my colleagues Risto’s and Barry O’Reilly’s post > Leading culture change means changing yourself before others.
  3. Make sure that everyone has a shared understanding of the environment, expectations and risks. This is a way to make sure that vision is tested against market realities and will help distinguish it from a wishful thinking. My other colleague Virpi knows how to do this > What are bright futures made of?
  4. Consider sub-visions for products, projects, customers or perhaps you need a future vision to align AI entities. Alignment is key here and a brand can provide you with a pragmatic help how to do it, as Kalle writes > Love the brand
  5. Make words visual or approachable with other senses. Have a look at this Futurice Advisory text: “momentum as a service.” Below is the same but with visuals - words combined with visuals supports the message and make it more memorable.

Am I there, yet?

If vision has value, people will keep coming and discussing it. It will evoke emotions, thoughts and guide our daily decisions. If not, start again from the core.

Additional information

Mars group exercise - How to find core value?

“Imagine that you’ve been asked to re-create the very best attributes of your organization on another planet but you have seat on the rocket ship for only five people. Whom should you send?”

Most likely you choose people, who have a gut-level understanding of the core values, the highest level of credibility with their peers, and the highest level of competence.

5 Why's - How to find company’s purpose?

Start with descriptive statement “We deliver X services”, and then ask “Why is this important?” five times to find the fundamental purpose of the organization.

You could also ask from Mars group “How could we frame the purpose of the organization so that if you woke up tomorrow morning with enough money in the bank to retire, you would nevertheless keep working here?”

Example from banks - what do you think of these?

The table below shows two things. 1) Company vision requires two components a reason for existence (=philosophical core) and envisioned future. 2) Different statements below have no power and meaning. You would need to work in a company for a while to understand what they are talking about.

Banks were selected from the world’s best bank by region list (Global Finance magazine 2016). Statements are from public websites and publications. Empty slots don’t mean the term is missing but rather it isn’t available in public sources or there are multiple ones.

Read the previous article in the series co-authored by Risto Sarvas and Barry O'Reilly "Leading culture change means changing yourself before others."_


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    Petri Rikkinen
    Emerging business & culture initiatives