The Wedge and the Cheese
What is Vision?
Recent conversations on Twitter concerning the topic of leadership have raised the question of “vision”. What is it? Where does it come from? What is its purpose? Who should provide it? I have lost count of the number of organisations I have seen where some kind of vision, if it exists at all, is confined to a scant few executives. Executives who seem mystified that their organisations could benefit in any practical way from having a (shared) vision of the future, either for the organisation as a whole, or even just for a single product, or service.
Aside: My late colleague Grant Rule always made a point of canvassing his management audiences regarding how many of them understood, or even knew about, the vision their organisation had for its future. The numbers replying in the affirmative generally hovered around the 15% mark.
Current and Future States
Before Lean and Agile gained traction in knowledge-work organisations, circa the 1990’s, there was BPR (Business Process Reengineering). Now largely discredited – and for much the same reasons as Lean and Agile are now falling into disrepute – I liked the ideas in BPR for the “whole-system” viewpoint it encouraged. In many ways I’m sorry to see its demise.
One key idea I learned from BPR, and have continued to use ever since, is the idea of the wedge and the cheese.
The wedge represents the reason for embarking on an endeavour, such as a programme for change (Kotter, in his change model, call this the “Burning Platform”, Sinek with his Golden Circle calls it the “Why”). This reason should be the “wedge” that gets people moving, that disturbs the status quo, that shifts the organisation away from its current state.
Conversely the cheese represents the desirable future state, the attractor that pulls people along and towards the new form, or new ways of working for the organisation. Assuming folks like cheese.
Hammer and Champy suggested that the wedge and the cheese translate to a Business Case or Case for Action, and a VIsion, respectively. In practice we have used these two artefacts, in every project since the mid-1990, to provide development- or change-team members and other stakeholders with context and clarity of shared purpose, essential to effective collaboration and teamwork. I’ll leave specific details of these artefacts – including some examples – to another post.
And so, to return to the opening questions about vision:
What is Vision?
Vision. a.k.a. Goal; Objective; End; Desired Outcome or Result.
More specifically, I see a Vision as some more-or-less easy to communicate articulation of a desired future state. Peter Senge in his book “The Fifth Discipline” lists Building Shared Vision as one of the five disciplines of the Learning Organisation.
Where does vision come from?
Fundamentally, a specific vision comes from a view of the future and how it might unfold. Most visions arise from some kind of opportunity, be that commercial, social, or personal. In other words, a vision is not so much something to be “created”, “invented”or “imagined” so much as “discovered” or “uncovered”.
What is the purpose of a vision?
Senge suggests that an effective vision “fosters genuine commitment and enrollment rather than compliance.” For me, its about giving people enough context to help them better make the hundred-and-one little decisions (choices, trade-offs) that they may be faced with at work, every day. Sir John Whitmore in “Coaching for Performance” states that teams are about goal-alignment, and I concur, suggesting that a clear vision of the goal(s) is an essential component of such alignment. Further, in my recent post on Fellowship I mention Ackoff’s idea of “Idealised Design”, and its value in allowing us to slough off our collective “assumptions , history and associated intellectual baggage”. Having a vision of a more-or-less idealised future speaks to this purpose, too.
Who should provide it?
In my view, vision can come from many quarters. From an executive, a leader, a manager, some team or even an individual employee. But wherever it comes from, people need to buy into it and turn it into a shared vision before it becomes truly useful.
“When there is genuine vision (as opposed to the all-too-familiar ‘vision statement’), people excel, and learn, not because they are told to, but because they want to.”
~ Peter M Senge
I believe that the best visions are not only shared, but built together by the folks that have to live with them (and live them). So, yes, I’d suggest that fellowship is a great way to build shared vision, and that a great shared vision can only emerge from some kind of fellowship.
What value does an effective shared vision offer?
Bottom-line, an effective (shared) vision gets everyone engaged and rowing in the same direction, with the information (context) they need to make better choices, all day every day. That is, more engaged and more aligned and making better choices than they would be without an effective vision. And that’s the best test of a vision, too.
What’s the vision in your organisation? Does it, as Marcus Buckingham asks in his book “First Break All the Rules”, make you feel like your work is important? What kind of vision would make you feel that way?