"Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare." American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail."
Going through the course of defining a mission or vision encourages people to explain both their organizational and individual values. The process has them clarify what is important to them and how what they want can be achieved through achieving the organisations vision. It allows them the opportunity to get in touch with "whats in it for me," as well as whats in it for the company, which brings an individuals purpose into alignment with the organisations mission. Without a vision - an image of the way we want it to be - many of us tend to focus most of our attention on whats not working. By directing our energy towards correcting what is wrong with the present and focusing only on problems to be solved, we often lose sight of our ultimate objective in the process. In contrast, having a vision inspires us to look at the possibilities of going beyond what is wrong and what, in the past, have been our limitations. It pulls us to look at what is working and where we can go. Focusing on limitations bogs us down. A purpose or an expanded vision empowers us and pulls us towards the possibilities. When we focus on overcoming problems, the purpose becomes to overcome the problems and more appropriate or already-chosen objectives might be hidden from us. Where might your team (or organisation) be falling into the trap of focusing so much attention on overcoming problems that they lose track to their primary objectives? How clearly focused is your team on their primary objective? What can you learn from this story that will help your team stay focused on their objective?
It seems obvious that people should be clear on what they are doing. Just because we are clear on an objective when we start out to accomplish it doesnt mean that level of clarity stays with us. Often around our office one of us will be working on a project and get stuck. It still amazes us how quickly we can help each other get back on track with a simple question like, "What are you trying to accomplish with what you are doing?" or simply, "What is your objective?" These effective questions (EQs) quickly refocus our attention from wherever it is back to our objective. What might be the value of occasionally asking your team questions like, "How does what you are doing fit into our objective?" or "Describe what we are trying to accomplish." In what areas might your team be doing a good job of "walking safely," yet not getting any closer to its primary objective? By focusing on overcoming problems, we tend to be mired in more and more problems. By continually refocusing on an elevating mission, however, we move towards our objective and simply handle problems as needed. By focusing on the forward side of the NeFER (Net Forward Energy Ratio), the creativity, energy, and enthusiasm of our people is both released and focused.
By getting in touch with the personal value of an organisations vision, our people see how their individual goals fit in to the organisations goals. In doing so, the individual and organisational goals become aligned. In other words, both individual and organisation begin moving in the same direction toward a shared vision. People are empowered when they are clear about how their personal goals are supported by the organizational objectives when they are in touch with "whats in it for them" for doing what needs to be done. As leaders, we cannot assume people will automatically see "whats in it for them." In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey says, "you can buy a persons hand, but you cant buy his heart. His heart is where his enthusiasm is, his loyalty is. You can buy his back, but you cant buy his brain. Thats where his creativity is, his ingenuity, his resourcefulness."
If in the example given in the second box, first two bricklayers had been provided EQs, they may have discovered their own personal value in being part of the project and had a higher level of commitment to it. We cannot predict the personal benefit that any individual will perceive, and what the perceived benefit is, is not important. What is important is that they are in touch with it.
Using EQs to develop purpose and vision
EQs fit into the concepts of purpose, vision and alignment perfectly. In fact, a structured sequence of EQs has proven to be useful in developing purpose and vision. When this approach is used with a team, natural alignment occurs because the purpose or vision is truly shared. The key is a multileveled approach to questions that gain the individual participation, develops the mission, and gains buy-in from the team members.
Here is an example of how this process might proceed:
"What are we doing that is already working well?"
"What are we best at?"
"What is our organisation best known for?"
"What are our greatest strengths?"
"What is unique about us?"
"What is causing us to do well in each of these areas?"
"What are our people doing best in each of these areas?"
"What contributes most to our success?"
"What systems and processes particularly help?"
"What about these are particularly effective?"
The Level One and Level Two questions are focused on what is already working. They put us in touch with the positive aspects of our current situation and, therefore, are highly energizing and empowering. They prepare us for addressing the more creative and feeling aspects of our ultimate vision by opening our minds and hearts. The weather was cold and the ground was icy and slippery. Two friends X and Y walked out from a shopping mall one evening to get to their car, and X almost lost his footing on the first step he took outside.
As they walked towards the car, X was being very careful not to fall. Suddenly, he heard Ys voice calling him. Y was standing next to the car. X had walked a whole parking aisle and a half past where the car was parked. They both left the store at the same time, with a clear objective - to get to the car. Y managed to maintain that focus. Within that focus (on a primary objective), he also included a secondary objective of getting to the car safely. Without even being aware of it happening, X had become so focused on walking safely that he had lost touch with the primary objective and walked right past the car. Without even being aware of it happening, X had become so focused on walking safely that he had lost touch with the primary objective and walked right past the car. While doing a very good job of what X was doing, it did not serve in accomplishing the primary objective. If Y had not gotten Xs attention, he could have become so good at walking safely that he might still be walking.
Third Level:"How would you describe the ultimate objective for our organisation?"
"If you overhear a conversation about our exam one year/two years/three years down the road, what do you want people to be saying about us?"
"What would it be like around here if you were really excited about coming to work every day?"
"If you could create the ultimate work environment, how would you describe it?"
"What would we be doing that would have you excited about being part of it?"
The description of the mission or the expanded vision itself comes from the Level Three questions. These questions can be phrased many ways, and each configuration may help a different member of the team gain greater clarity about what they want. Frame them in several different ways to pull out many perspectives. The vision becomes shared through the participation process and through individual discovery of our own piece to the overall vision. In an advertising function, The Prudential Insurance Company has used this theme for years:" Own A Piece Of The Rock." Belonging is important, but ownership of the overall vision is even more important to long-term success.
"If we could achieve this objective - the vision of the way we want it to be - what would be the organisational benefits?"
"If we could achieve this, what would it do for our team? For you personally?
The purpose of Level Fours questions is to gain buy-in. Buy-in is solidified as people get clear on the personal benefits of contributing to the cause. Once people understand how they will benefit from achieving their shared mission or vision, the available energy is enhanced enormously. The traditional approach would have a manager saying, "This is the new mission, and here is why we are going to move in this direction." At best, this approach generates complianceor acquiescence, but the energy of compliance or acquiescence does not come close to the energy and enthusiasm of ownership.