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“If you don’t care where you’re going, then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

-Lewis Carroll

In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice asks the Cheshire cat to tell her which way to go, and he responds that it depends on where she wants to go. When Alice replies that she doesn’t care, the cat responds with the above quote. This quote speaks volumes about the importance of creating a shared vision. It is reflective of the shortsighted focus that is all too common in organizations today. To be fair, it is exquisitely challenging to disentangle oneself enough from the grip of day-to-day operations to “see the forest for the trees.” Yet without a shared vision, the force of the status quo will prevail in an organization.

A shared vision emerges from the intersection of personal visions and helps create a sense of commitment to the long term. However, there is more to a shared vision than just this amalgamation of personal visions. Vision is only truly shared when people are committed to one another having it, not just each person individually having it. There needs to be a sense of connection and community with respect to the vision that provides the focus and energy for learning in learning organizations. It is the commitment to support each other in realizing the shared vision that gives the vision power. Furthermore, it supplies the guiding force that enables organizations to navigate difficult times and to keep the learning process on course.

Shared vision cannot exist without personal vision. An organization must start the process of building a shared vision by encouraging others to create personal visions. Everyone must see a part of his or her personal vision in the shared vision. Shared vision takes time to emerge and requires on-going dialogue where advocacy is balanced with inquiry. By sharing and listening to each other’s personal Vision 20 visions, new insights will surface that continually shape the shared vision. Building a shared vision is a perpetual process. There is a constant need to assess both the internal and external environment.

Just as personal vision reflects individual aspirations, a shared vision must reflect organizational aspirations as well as the individual visions that form its foundation. It is not the leader’s individual vision that has been expressed, sold, and accepted. There is a crucial element of choice and ownership in a shared vision. Without that sense of commitment to the vision, an organization is left with compliance.

Commitment vs. Compliance
It can often be difficult to distinguish between commitment and compliance. Compliance, at its best, is when someone believes in the leaders creating the vision and willingly follows the rules, working diligently to make that vision happen. At its worst, compliance creates employees who perform at the absolute minimum. Commitment, on the other hand, happens when employees take responsibility for achieving the vision and will change the rules if they become a barrier. In the world of transactional analysis, compliance would be described as a parent-child interaction where commitment would be described as an adult-adult interaction.

The differences between commitment and compliance can often be subtle, but the outcomes never are. True commitment to a vision creates a passion and energy unattainable through mere compliance. Committed people want the vision; compliant people accept the vision. Committed people enroll in the vision, an action that implies personal choice. Compliant people are sold a vision, an action that implies a form of coercion.

One of the biggest pitfalls in creating a shared vision is the belief that employees are committed when in fact they may only be compliant. How do you know? Start by asking how much you are trying to control the outcomes. Much like the difference between debate and dialogue, compliance relies on convincing someone of the rightness of a particular point of view, where commitment relies on a willingness to listen to all points of view as well as sharing your own. To create a shared vision, leaders must be willing to share their personal vision, accepting that it is not the shared vision, and ask others to share theirs. Finding the common ground in those collective visions is the beginning of a shared vision. If you find yourself doing more talking than listening, then you probably have compliance and not commitment.

Why Do Visions Die?
In the past, visioning has often suffered from a black eye in the business world. (Remember George H. W. Bush’s comment about the “vision thing”?) It is frequently viewed as faddish or too “touchy-feely.” Most businesses prefer to analyze hard data rather than dealing with amorphous ideas and feelings, and without the essential facilitative skill set, that discomfort is rightfully placed. It is this perception that can ultimately feed the failure of a visioning process. Here are some more common reasons why visions die:

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