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The Development Of Vision
By Jack Donohue   Printer Friendly Version

The vision of an organization provides the direction, the purpose, the very raison-d'être for the organization. But where does the vision come from? Who owns it? Who is responsible for it?

The answers to these three questions vary from organization to organization, but they should all be the same. The person/people who develop the vision are the ones who own it, and they should also be the ones responsible for it.

Traditional management theory suggests that the leader should come in with the vision, share it with the masses, and they will flock to embrace it. But is that the way it really works? Not normally. The leader has to explain why the vision is relevant to the day-to-day operation of the organization (after first deciding for her/himself how it is relevant!), and then convince the others to buy into it. This process saves a lot of front-end time, developing the vision, but at what cost along the route? Why should the organization buy into this vision? The hierarchical authority of the leader may be one factor, but unilateral imposition hardly empowers or inspires the work-force. Further, the espoused agreement of the organization of this vision does not necessarily translate into the actual, workplace commitment to the realities of the vision, and its subsumed goals and objectives. The preferred means of developing a vision, although somewhat more time-consuming upfront, is to develop the vision collaboratively with the workforce. Granted, this is often a difficult task. The leader must be willing to forego some control in order to give the exercise validity; forcing others to agree with your point of view is not far removed from telling them what their point of view should be.

This task should not be undertaken lightly. Better that you should impose a vision from above than try to fool others into thinking you are working together when you are not. This leads to the same problems as imposing the vision from "higher management", with the additional loss of trust that accompanies bad-faith bargaining. In addition, the vision may not turn out exactly the way you anticipate. This isn't necessarily a bad thing; isn't that why you asked what they thought in the first place? If you don't want to know what they want, why would you ask them?

The collaborative development of the vision has many positive effects that should counterbalance the upfront costs. First, it is OUR vision, WE made it, WE own it. Not MY vision that I want you to buy into. It means a lot more if we can say, "Yes, WE decided that this is the right way to do things" than "Yes, we were TOLD this is the right way." In addition, responsibility for pursuing the vision is taken away from the leader and shared by all, in that everyone (or at least representatives of everyone) was involved in the decisions that led to the vision.

Secondly, the vision means something to everyone involved. It means something to them because they were part of the process of developing it. While it may not be exactly what I want, I was part of the development process and I should understand the reasons underlying the vision. Again, this depends on the honesty throughout the process. Failure to disclose relevant information at the beginning may lead to hard feelings later on. If you expect them to trust you, show them that you trust them.

Finally, the answer to the original questions ... WE ALL develop the vision, WE ALL own the vision, and we are all responsible for seeing it through, all day, everyday. WE developed the vision. WE believe in the vision. WE live the vision.

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