“If you shout loud enough for long enough, a crowd will gather to see what all the noise is about. It’s the nature of crowds. They don’t stay long, unless you give them reason.” -Michael Cunningham, The Hours
It’s become conventional wisdom that in order to get people excited about the present, you should talk about the future. You should have a vision of where you’re aspiring to go and communicate it in a formal statement.
In fact, just about any business book you pick up will tell you that you need to have a vision statement, so any company that’s done its required reading will have one. And it often develops like this:
A group of senior executives–now known as the “Executive Team”–goes away on an off-site, sits down together, and has a poetry contest. They try to hammer out just the right words and phrases, and they argue for hours–days, sometimes–over the word choices.
“Should we call them customers or clients, are they shareholders or stakeholders, do we have employees or are they associates?”
They tear their hair out, and they threaten, and they fight, and ultimately–at the end of the day–they have created a magnificent document, and they’re so proud.
So, what do they do?
They laminate it on little wallet-sized cards, hand it out to everyone in the organization, and hang a full-color calligraphy version in the reception areas.
And then they stand back and wait for the people to change and the magic–the energy–to happen.
But it doesn’t.
I’m not cynical about vision statements or the workshop processes and dialogue used to create them. In fact, I think those things are valuable because they create a STARTING POINT, not the now-we-can-check-vision-off-our-list END point, which is, unfortunately, how most companies treat them. To paraphrase the quote above, people will gather around to read the vision statement, but they won’t stay, engage and energize around it, until you give them reason.
Workshop-engineered vision statements by themselves don’t generate energy, love does. Great ideas, principles, and values do.
Your own example does.
We’ll explore that next time.
Ken Carroll says
I agree with your points – ideals, principles, and so on. I think those all come down to meaning. People really need that in these days of uncertainty where a good many have little religious faith or faith in institutions generally. So, the question is, where does that meaning come from? Maybe thatls the job of the leader to ‘make meaning’ as Guy Kawasaki says.
I really agree with the premise that the vision (and mission) statement is the starting point and should be the filter that we process everything through. Every time we discuss resources, intitatives, reform, staff, etc we should dialogue about how these fit with our vision and mission. The starting point idea also implies that an organization/school is growing, changing, and learning.
Have you seen the TED Derek Severs video on starting a movement and leadership? It’s a humorous yet honest view of leadership.