Monday, May 29, 2017

Strategic Success Starts with Vision

"Building Your Company's Vision" is an article I wish I had read three months ago, prior to participating in a vision-creation exercise for my work unit. For background:

I work for the US Department of Justice, automating business processes into the enterprise's workflow tool. This unit started in 2007 with four employees and one business process, and has grown to 50 people supporting 30 business processes. For most of this period, the unit grew at a manageable pace, but the work performed remained focused on the central goal of improving efficiency through reengineering and automation of the enterprise's business processes. In 2013, the unit accepted a project with requirements requiring so many resources the unit doubled in size. As the large project concluded and people began to focus on other efforts, it became clear that the quick growth without a defined vision, strategy, and structure created a reactionary environment. Employees were merely fighting fires and resolving problems without a clear direction on how to "get out of the slump." A working group was formed, of which I was a part, to recommend changes to transform the unit into a more agile, productive shop. There were two primary recommendations out of the working group: a new organization structure that better fit the way the unit worked, and a defined vision. The hope was that with a vision, a better strategy could be developed to help define what the unit could achieve.

When it came to creating a vision, we didn't have the background knowledge on how to come up with a great vision. Primarily, we thought that a single vision statement would suffice. Upon reading this article, I now understand a good vision has multiple components, which don't have to (and probably shouldn't be able to) be reduced to a single pithy sentence or statement. Upon reflection now, I understand we were stuck defining what Collins and Poras call "descriptive statements" as our vision statement. We weren't asking the "why?" to get us to our "fundamental purpose," and we weren't defining core values or a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal (BHAG). 

In its examination of BHAGs, the article highlights NASA as an example of an organization who set and achieved a BHAG, but never set another BHAG. I have often personally thought of NASA as an example of how our government used to do great and hard things, but doesn't anymore. I now see the underlying reason why I have that perception; government leaders haven't recently set any BHAGs that have been achieved. As the authors state, a BHAG "has a clear finish line" for the organization to run towards. In many instances, BHAGs are the achievement(s) the company is most well-known for: Boeing and the jumbo-jet, Stanford being the Harvard of the west, NASA and the moon-landing, etc.

Strategy development requires an understanding of where you want your organization to go, so that the organization can define the right way to move in that direction. Creating a vision is merely the first step, but a critical step, in defining a successful strategy.

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