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The Value of an Organization's Vision

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Type: Article, Report or Whitepaper

Topics: Marketing and Sales; Project Management

Date: January 2012

By Bradley A. Malone, PMP

This is the second in an ongoing series of project management articles by InfoComm University™ instructor Brad Malone.

How important to a company is a shared vision — one that resonates with every person in the organization and is felt by every client? Let’s find out by looking at the typical progression and growth of an audiovisual integration company. Many AV integration companies (and many companies in other industries, too) start small, with three to five people filling a multitude of roles and performing many tasks. These roles and responsibilities often overlap, so the founding members understand one another’s jobs and probably share a common purpose, something like, “Do whatever it takes to make the customer happy — and do some really cool work while we’re at it.” That is their purpose — their reason for existence. They don’t have to write it down some place. It is simply a truth, which everyone in the organization knows and measures themselves against.

Fast forward — anywhere from five to 15 years. The company has grown to 50 (maybe even 100) people and three of the founding members have left. The two remaining founders are the president and vice president of sales and they are wondering why the other people in the company don’t always (or hardly ever) use common sense or place importance on the same things they do. The challenge here, usually, is that the founding members of the company didn’t communicate that “common sense” to their employees, nor did they explain the vision or mission of the company, the context for their vision, or the how they’d measure themselves going forward. They just assumed every new employee would automatically “get it” and act accordingly — just like they did when they formed the company. In fact, new employees didn’t act accordingly because they didn’t know what “it” was, nor why they needed to get it.

So why and how does an organization create and sustain a viable vision and/or mission?

Let’s deal with why. The first reason a company needs to communicate a vision or mission to its employees is that it probably already exists by default — whether by intention or omission. Often, the company already has a vision and/or a mission, but it’s unstated and therefore different for every employee. Therefore all the employees are probably operating with great intentions (“great” being self-defined), but not coalescing as a group united by the same principles. Cliques have likely developed, leading to frustrations and animosities between people and groups who don’t share the same viewpoints.

The second reason is that by creating and continually communicating a documented vision and/or mission gives employees a common foundation from which to make responsible choices and decisions. The decision-criteria boundaries are established. People know the right choices and why they should make them, not the convenient choices, or the popular ones, or the conflict-averse ones, or the “I didn’t know” ones. They understand the choices that align with the image the company wants to create, both internally and with its customers and suppliers. The difference between a job and a profession is often commensurate with the purpose people attach to their functions. With no shared vision, there’s no shared purpose.

The how can be accomplished a number of ways (executive management team meeting, employee focus group, representatives from all of the departments), but the primary outcome should be something that each employee can be proud of. The goal is to have all of the employees answer the questions, “Why are we here?” and “What do we provide?”

The desired result — a company vision or mission — is viable when it can be measured against the following criteria:

  • Can the organization credibly sell the vision or mission to its customers and suppliers and regularly measure its performance against it?
  • Does the organization use the vision or mission as a filter through which all decisions are made?
  • Does it continuously reward behavior that aligns with the vision or mission and correct behavior that does not?
  • Does executive management walk the talk, or are they hypocrites?
  • Does the vision or mission allow the company to differentiate itself, and does the organization keep objective data to prove it is in alignment?
  • Does the vision or mission make people proud to work in the organization?

Many organizations spend a lot of time, money and energy on building processes, buying software, and training their people on the newest technology. But a majority of them forget to consciously create a framework and foundation for a healthy organizational culture. They don’t have to be world-changing; but they need to be meaningful. A well-crafted vision should make employees feel proud to be part of the larger whole and of their contribution in attaining something bigger than they could achieve themselves. It should also allow people to keep some perspective, keep from becoming petty, and forgive one another’s mistakes.

Establishing a vision or mission is the first step to creating a vibrant and healthy company. The only way to fail is not to start.

Bradley A. Malone, PMP, is an InfoComm instructor and president of Twin Star Consulting, a project management and corporate transformation consulting company. He holds the Project Management Professional (PMP®) designation from the Project Management Institute (PMI) and is one of PMI’s highest-rated instructors. Please share your thoughts with him at brad@twinstarconsulting.com.