The Gravity of Vision
In our universe what keeps things together? In a general sense what brings chaos to order? Gravity. For without it every person and thing would be cast into space, floating aimlessly, making for quite a chaotic existence. If not for gravity then nothing would be at rest on earth. Moreover this invisible force of attraction provides a general order to the movement of planets in our universe—making it one (whole) system.
The Gravity of Unity
In like fashion organizations need to canalize and unify people’s energy enabling it to function as one system. Accordingly, the canalizing of human energy requires a cohesive system of beliefs and values that deeply connect people to each other and the organization. This can be accomplished with the guidance of a vision that accesses that part of us that is the same thus enabling us to relate core-to-core irrespective of our external differences.
An organization that is not functioning as one—not a unified whole—is an organization whose energy is thinly scattered and whose demise is imminent. In short, it is a visionless organization. That is, vision can act as an attractor facilitating and guiding people toward developing helpful relationships with others and meaningful relationships with their work. Since an organization is a system of relationships, vision then can be the signpost to wholeness.
It is unfortunate that many believe that it is not what the vision is, but what the vision does that makes it so important. For many having a goal is all that matters. Accordingly most visions are in effect mission statements—what some might call BHAG (big hairy audacious goal).
As illustration consider GM’s vision, “Design, Build and Sell the World’s Best Vehicles.” This speaks not of people but of things—yes the objects—the organization makes. While GM’s statement offers a far-reaching noble goal it does not offer guidance to people toward developing and maintaining meaningful relationships with each other and the work.
When results-only becomes the thing then meaning is lost as everything becomes objectified. Moreover as concern for results dominate relationships all interaction among people become mere transactions. Unavoidably, motivation turns to movement caused external authority and people become disconnected from the work. Because engagement in the work turns superficial keeping people on task toward results guides the approach of management.
Let’s quickly revisit the effect of gravity in our world. If the gravitational force were greater, then movement would correspondingly become increasingly more difficult. In other words, an order providing force taken to the extreme would be all consuming and confining, as what would be found in a black hole. Black hole like conditions can manifest in organizations when ends supplant meaning and/or when order becomes control. When this happens the light of creativity is inhibited from emerging.
Therefore, because of the power that vision has, what vision is is extremely important. Consequently, for the organization to sustain viability—which requires creative emergence—those in authority must act from, and be informed by, their humanness in order to lead with vision.
The Gravity of Insight
Vision runs far deeper than the words used to communicate it. Composing a nice sounding statement only requires skillful writing, but discovering meaning through vision requires insight.
Since it emerges from within, it requires listening to and being in touch with the unchanging aspect of our very being, looking deeply inward. Thus, having vision is more than having nice words fit together in a statement for public display; it is having the inner knowledge that there is more to us than our functional fit or the material outcomes that our activities might provide.
Clearly, seen in this light, vision does not require foresight since it is not a future end or goal. It is a beacon that points the way to a mode of being-in-the-world that brings meaning and joy, not at some future time but in the eternal present moment. Put simply, vision is as a description of the way life should now be experienced; a deeply thoughtful—almost philosophic—characterization of the ideals, values and nature of human experiences that resonate within the depths of people. As such it is a heartfelt description of a reality—which manifests as culture—people deeply care about being a part of and collaboratively contribute to realizing.
For example, Jim Goodnight, CEO of SAS Institute Inc (the leader in business analytics software and services) states, “we’ve worked hard to create a corporate culture that is based on trust between our employees and the company…a culture that rewards innovation, encourages employees to try new things and yet doesn’t penalize them for taking chances, and a culture that cares about employees’ personal and professional growth.” At SAS the belief is “if you treat employees as if they make a difference, they will make a difference.” Accordingly its people-centered vision reads “SAS transforms the way the world works, giving people THE POWER TO KNOWÒ”. Since SAS “integrates the company’s business objectives with employees’ personal needs, the first people they give the power to know are employees.
Thus, with vision as the guide, people are afforded the opportunity to experience an inner sense of significance and meaning in the organization’s work (i.e. their activities), and through these experiences, they are provided the chance to develop and express their unique potential. When people become engaged in their work then work becomes more than a series or collection of abstract or superficial activities they are carrying out for a paycheck: It becomes meaningful to life itself. Work then is not just a job, it is a joy and the relationship one has with his/her work is not as an object acting on objects, but instead, it becomes a means for connecting us to ourselves and each other.
An organization absent of an enlivening vision—one where functional and inter-functional fit is the sole concern—expunges meaning from life in the organization. And as meaning fades so too does intrinsic motivation—yes motivation is about meaningfulness! Thus it is no surprise that most with management positions frequently ask how do I motivate others? As Herzberg succinctly responded in his now classic 1968 Harvard Business Review article, give them motivating work to do!
It follows, for the organization to remain viable management in authority must contextualize people’s involvement in the functional and inter-functional aspects of the organization’s work by aligning management practice and the work within an enlivening vision. In other words, vision provides completeness to the organizing structure by bringing an inner sense of order (and thus meaning) to the very human aspects of an organization. In this way, an enabling or enlivening vision affords the flow of meaning throughout the system and serves as the basis for the self-reinforcing interplay of forces that provides joy in work and value to those it touches—canalizing human energy in a way that contributes positively to human progress, emergence of creativity and organizational viability.
The gravity of vision can’t be overstated, so take extra care when it comes to discovering a shared vision.