Norman Strauss is an Associate Fellow of Templeton College, Oxford, and Managing Director of Corporate Positioning Services.
Visaction turns a vision into an operational reality.
"Vision" is probably the most romantic and starry-eyed of all the control systems company leaders are employing to guide their organisations. Why then, especially if their owners are in love with them, do so many visions fail? One answer is that they weren't visions at all, merely missions, or desires, or random convictions, or wistful irrelevancies, or power-crazed hallucinations. They were merely masquerading as visions.
Another answer is that they were old-fashioned or were based on secondary issues such as quality, just-in-time, excellence, and so on, rather than on fundamental strategic needs like the needs for new growth strategies, exploitable R and D, new products and new markets.
But assuming our heroic leaders have exactly the right visions to fit the strategic situations that they are trapped in, and wish to escape from, how can they then ensure that their visions come to fruition and are not wrecked by ill-conceived and badly planned implementation programmes?
The first point to consider is the idea and ownership of a vision. It is wishful thinking to assume, either that my vision is like yours, and therefore equally inspiring to you, or that having a vision guarantees success. What some company leaders fail to recognise is that people at every level of the organisation are driven by their own very personal "visions" and that these subordinate "visions" are usually about how they see their present and future roles within the firm's culture, their need for security and how their bosses can, do or will affect their futures.
Indeed, subordinates will be much more concerned with their own "visions" of their positions, jobs and prospects than with the strange, intrusive and seemingly out of this world desire of a boss to realise his or her dreams, in spite of theirs.
The leader's problem, therefore, is how to get staff to follow his or her vision, especially when it is right. The solution involves two management techniques: one to validate the strategic promise implicit in the vision, and to communicate it clearly; and the other to ensure its promise can be delivered by the people at the leader's disposal.
I call the whole approach "visaction" consisting of both an ability to develop competitive visions that people can become committed to and a vision management process that ensures the leader's vision is so well implemented that it becomes the whole organisation's operational reality.
First we must have a way of binding each individual to his or her department or sub-group, and then we must bind each sectional interest to the whole, thereby creating a shared vision of precisely what we are and what we might, together, wish to achieve. Such a process of integration is essential if people are to have the confidence to act on their own initiative, within the context of the new vision, and make mid-course corrections when the need arises. The technique of generating the binding commitment's shared sense of purpose and related values that company leaders wish to spread throughout their organisations is called "ethos management".
The second task in the Visaction process is to ensure everyone understands the vision, its meaning, its benefits for them, what it expects of them and the re-definition of their responsibilities as required by the new vision. To guarantee employee involvement, a monitoring and measuring process must be installed at the start.
Later on, once the driving ethos is operating and the shared vision is controlling daily work, freedom of manoeuvre can be enlarged in a planned transition phase, designed to maximise autonomy and initiative. This is real, constitutional, empowerment, not just lip-service. Once goals are created and advanced across a whole society they may be justly called constitutional. When this ideal state has been reached, the self-sustaining "ethos reflex" can be left to run the show until it is necessary to start the constitutional reform and organisational renewal again.
The leader's primary role is to offer strategic guidance, whilst allowing talented staff to exercise vision-guided initiatives. The Visaction process is the best tool for the job, irrespective of whether the leaders need to maintain control in the present or to re-position their organisations so that they are prepared for the opportunities of a new era.