I recently keynoted at a Project Management Symposium. During the symposium several executives provided perspective on the importance of Project Management to the organization. One of the executives centered his discussion around people having vision. I can imagine the reaction of some of the people in the room. “Yeah, right. I’ve got projects with impossible deadlines, my customer is breathing down my neck because she is not getting what she wants, my project team isn’t dedicating enough time on my project, and budget cuts mean I have to figure out how to get more done with less. You want me to have vision? I can barely get things done as it is!”
I feel your pain, colleagues. But I also agree with the exec.
Vision is not something reserved for the higher-ups and it is not some highfalutin lingo that the folks in marketing dream up. A well-developed vision provides direction, inspires performance, sets priorities, ensures alignment with corporate objectives, and doesn’t create meaningless work for you and your team. When done poorly, a vision is nothing more than a huge waste of time in developing something to appease your boss and likely gets stuffed in a drawer after the “vision exercise” is done. I’ve been on both sides of the ledger: I’ve developed organizational visions which were quite useful in driving priorities and moving the team in the right direction. Then again, I’ve had a few which were painful to develop and served no use in driving my organization.
Through my failures (and a couple of successes) I’ve locked on six principles which can help you develop and implement a vision which is actually useful in driving results, as follows:
Principle #1 – Start with your manager – you could develop a killer vision that you and your team get super excited about, but if it isn’t aligned with your manager’s vision and priorities you’re going to be out of step with his or her organization. Get clear on your manager’s vision and ensure your vision contributes to his or her overall vision.
Principle #2 – Keep it super simple – IMHO (In my humble opinion) the best vision statements are a single sentence. They are something that you and your team Vision 20 can easily memorize, recall at a moments notice, and most importantly understand what it means. Vision statements which are paragraphs long lose their impact with every superfluous word. Simple. Direct. Concise.
Principle #3 – Involve the team – If you want someone other than yourself to be inspired and excited about a vision then you’ve got to ensure your team is intimately involved in the vision setting process. Many of us type-A personalities will just want to spend a few minutes crafting something in our office and subsequently revealing it to the team. Resist the urge. Yes, it takes longer to build consensus and can be frustrating particularly if the team doesn’t agree on things. The end result, though, is a much more effective vision which has team buy-in and a greater likelihood of success.
Principle #4 – Use a facilitator if you’re not good at facilitating – I’ve seen some managers do a very good job of facilitating vision statement development. They encourage participation, don’t unduly taint the direction, and drive the team to consensus. Then again, I’ve seen some managers completely bungle it by forcing their own agenda on the team. The end result was only verbal agreement of a vision; the team really wasn’t bought in because they weren’t able to contribute. If you’re not good at facilitation ask a colleague to facilitate vision statement development for you.
Principle #5 – Checkpoint your progress – So you spend hours and hours developing a great vision statement that the entire team is completely jazzed about then you summarily stuff it in a drawer never to see light of day again (until you have to go through the vision process again next year and you pull it out of the drawer to see what you did in the prior year). Keep the vision prominently displayed, report on significant wins which move the ball closer to achieving your vision, and develop a couple of metrics which allow you to chart progress.
Principle #6 – Change it if it no longer makes sense – So sometimes things change. Maybe there’s a re-organization, or maybe there’s a shift in business priorities. These types of things can render a well-crafted vision ineffective. Simply put, if the vision no longer makes sense change it to something that does make sense. Going through the motions on a vision which doesn’t match your priorities leaves you drifting at sea without a sail. Just be cautious to avoid creating a “vision du jour” because you’re trying to overly fine-tune direction to the business.