Governing Board Leadership Purpose/Vision/Culture

As I have relayed often in writings, vision plays a critical role in achieving high performance. I got another reality check on the importance of this recently that I thought I would share. Regardless of the level of your vision, i.e., from an organization’s strategic plan to a small departmental project, the lesson I learned holds true.

If you have read my earlier writings on Change Management, you are familiar with the dismal statistic that two-thirds of these efforts fail. I recently was involved in trying to resurrect such a project that we had been a part of back in 2009. At that time, the leader had a very strong vision, but wasn’t sure how to execute on it. We showed him how to create a design for process(es) that would achieve his vision and helped him put in place the implementation plan for the journey to get there.

When the vision disappears

vision smallerChanges in the organization and economics wreaked havoc with the implementation. Eventually the project began to sputter then stall, which is why we had been called back in to help resuscitate it. I am familiar with the challenges in a change project, but this time, there was a new twist for me. What struck me is how important the previous leader’s vision was at the project’s inception in 2009, and how the absence of that compelling vision now made resurrecting the project challenging.

In the beginning, the leader’s passion for and level of detail in his vision was successful in getting fiefdoms within the organization to unite behind trying to make his vision a reality. The vision was rather like an elixir that treated all the ills brought about by day to day disagreements about how it should be, who did and did not do what, etc. You know, normal organizational life.

But, without execution or delivery on the promise coupled with normal turnover of personnel including the visionary leader, the vision waned to the point that no one could recall what it was. The new leader sought to resurrect the project, but the project team could not describe a clear picture of where they were headed. They cited a lack of “leadership” and lack of “management decision-making” as reasons for their despair.

Effect of an uninspiring vision

The effect of all this was that the current team was unwilling to go for a home run, i.e. a self-defined picture of what it would look like to set their standard at being the best. In the book Managing Transitions, William Bridges describes what they were suffering from as “transition deficit”, i.e., having been burned by the incomplete change process earlier, there is now an unwillingness and hesitancy to move forward. They wanted to play it safe and try for some incremental level of change that had a stronger guarantee of success.

On many occasions, I have witnessed the power of what strong, compelling vision can do. Witnessing what happens when vision disappears was a new lesson for me. It does not matter whether you are talking about the vision for your organization outlined in the strategic plan or the vision for a change that you want to implement. Leaders must take stock and honestly answer this question: does this vision compel others to action and serve as a focal point of efforts? If not, what is missing?

For help in crafting a compelling vision that motivates leadership and staff to do what it takes to get there, drop me an e-mail. I would be delighted to be your sounding board in creating a compelling and effective vision for your organization or project.