If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there. – Lewis Carroll
All organisations need to know where they are going so they can develop the right products, invest in the right projects and hire the right staff. And it is up to the CEO to paint a clear picture of the future. Overall, most CEOs are pretty good at it; its in their DNA to understand their customers’ needs, the market dynamics, the competitive landscape, the technology and their organisation’s strengths and weaknesses. And its a big part of their job.
But sometime around the publication of In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters and Bob Waterman this important leadership proces was hijacked by well-intentioned consultants and turned into a “visioning” exercise. In no time complex and wordsmithed Vision and Mission statements sprang up everywhere. Many were lofty and long, great sounding but hard to remember. Some departments even decided they needed “sub-visions”. After a number of years and a wave of vision consultants most senior executives got fed up with the “vision circus” and retreated into focusing on functional excellence. “If I just focus on running my department well and meeting my budgets that will help us reach our overall strategic goals.”
Rather than a lofty “vision” statement designed after many workshops then crafted by the PR department and hung up on walls to gather dust, it is more effective, and much more believable to describe this future picture in simple, everyday language that everyone in the company can easily relate to.
When Gordon Bethune and Greg Brenneman embarked on the turnaround of perennially failing Continental Airlines in the mid-90s, Gordon decided to avoid the “vision circus” and focus on plain (and plane) language. Gordon’s style was to “tell it like it is” in the numerous speeches he gave to employees, customers, analysts, investors and even the Board of Directors. In simple and direct words Gordon told everyone what he wanted from them and what the company needed from them. One of his classic I Wants was: “I want us to be profitable in 1995 and run an airline we can all be proud of.”
Taking a clue from Gordon I have suggested to numerous CEOs that they forget the “vision circus”, go home early, sit down at the dining room table, their desk or on the patio and craft a series of “I Want . . ” objectives for the company. I also give them a balanced format so they don’t overdose on financial stuff. No more than two or three I Want objectives in each of the following categories is a good place to start: People, Product, Marketplace, Financial.
Once you have thought about it and set down a few drafts of your I Want …, it is important to include your management team. Encourage them to question and challenge your objectives. This process will engage them and also elevate your thinking to an even higher level. Keep the process alive for several weeks so you and your team can really bottom it out. But don’t allow this process to fall into the spiral of unending debates and talk. Set a firm deadline for both the statements and the measures to be finalized. And use “real” language.
As an example the head of a large pharmaceutical division came up with just five powerful “I Want” statements, but they were bold enough to help propel his organization to new heights.
- I want us to keep score on our strategy and post it for our associates to see
- I want everyone to be given the opportunity to provide input that is listened to and acted upon.
- I want manufacturing costs to decrease by 5% or more each year for the next four years.
- I want us to keep asking why.
- I want the wellfare of the end user to be at the heart of every decision we make.
What do you want for your organization?
Tight Lines . . .
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