Organisational Vision – A waste of time?

Group of individuals working together to achieve a common goal

This week I have been working with a client that has lost its sense of being, purpose and direction, and with Caja have been supporting them to create a new vision for the future as well as helping them understand and focus on what they are actually here for in the shape of a mission. In developing this new ‘strategy’, we took a proposed vision out to over 600 of their people to start an organisational conversation to truly engage with them to help develop their view of the future. In one of the events, I was asked a simple question that sparked a huge debate amongst the delegates:

“Creating a vision – isn’t this just words and therefore a total waste of time?”

This really stuck with me as it had a poke at one of my core beliefs that without a vision for the future, both personally and within organisations, where is the meaning in what we do and give so much of ourselves to. Many, many eminent people in human psychology talk about the pointlessness of human existence without hopes, dreams and a vision for where we are going as individuals – can we really apply this same logic to an organisation?

The question itself made me wonder whether an organisation can be successful without having a vision, and you know what, maybe, just maybe, it can…although the actual question is whether it can be even more successful with a shared common purpose articulated in a vision statement.

Jim Collins in his book “From Good to Great” wrote about the Yin and Yang of organisational approach, the symbiotic relationship of protecting the core of your business (the reason for your success to date (which could also be described as the mission), and at the same time, finding innovative ways to stimulate progress and growth. Without both of these having focus, Collins suggested that ultimately the organisation will fail. So, stimulating progress… does this have to be in line with a prescribed vision or is it better to let a company organically evolve into whatever direction it takes, seizing on market opportunities as they emerge, rather than being constrained by a set of amorphous words articulated in a vision.

Do we have visions for our children or do we support and nurture them in a way that allows them to grow, find their own path and create their own future? Then is it appropriate for us to prescribe a vision for an organisation.

You will have your own views on this – our view at Caja Consulting is that having a vision that is clearly articulated, developed through deep engagement with the people of the organisation, that allows flex, regularly reviewed for its continuing relevance, aligning all process, people and systems strategies is key to moving them from just merely good to great organisations. Organisations can be successful if they don’t have vision. However, consider how much better they might be where an empowering exciting vision of the future exists that all people at all levels can get behind, believe in and have absolute clarity in how the things that they do on a day to day basis, move the organisation that one step further to achieving their purpose and vison of the future.

Lewis Carrol nicely sums up the purpose of vision, and the pitfalls of not having one. in this insert taken from Alice through the Looking Glass:

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” enquired Alice.

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to!” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where….”

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go” said the Cat.

“… so long as I get SOMEWHERE,’ Alice added as an explanation.

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

With no vision, we will always get somewhere but how will we know that it’s the right place to be for our people, our customers or our shareholders…