The oft-quoted Yogi Berra once quipped, “If you don’t know where you are going, you could wind up someplace else.” Vision is about knowing where you are going and how you will get there. In organizational change, vision is about articulating the purpose of the project so that others know why they are following and can take the initiative and improve the path. A clear, well-developed vision serves a change leader in two important ways. It gives direction and focus to employees (so they are inclined to move from the status quo), and it defines the scope of the initiative (so you don’t wind up somewhere else).
Without direction and focus, it is nearly impossible to motivate employees and engage their enthusiasm for change. Though not a panacea, a clear vision is a good first step. A fully articulated vision explains what is lacking in the current state, what the new state looks like and the improvement it offers, the plan for getting there, as well as who it will affect and how. It links the change initiative to the organization’s strategic goals. Workers are more likely to fully engage in an initiative if they understand why it is needed, what it will improve, and how it will affect them. Engaged employees have more ownership and motivation to take the change seriously. They are more likely to suggest improvements and bring others along.
Scope creep—the problem of project expanding beyond its original confines—can be the bane of a change project.* A poorly defined vision does nothing to prevent a change project growing beyond its usefulness. Explain the criteria for success and depict the desired end-state as clearly as possible. Vague and overused phrases like “customer-focused” or “user-friendly” or “world-class” do little to stem scope creep. What about the project will focus on the customer? How will it be more friendly for the user than the current state? What value will being world-class bring? Clarity demonstrates that you know where you are going and when you have arrived.
Of course, even the best vision is useless unless it is communicated effectively. I remember a tech firm who hired an artist to create a map of their change that included pithy text and representative illustrations. This has its place. It can begin a conversation, but it cannot substitute for listening to employees and making sure they understand and buy in to the vision and know that any concerns they have are heard. Effective two-way communication includes translating the overall vision to clear performance goals and making sure employees know how their personal performance goals fit into the success picture for the change. It also demands monitoring progress, rewarding successes, and making course corrections whenever necessary.
Without a clear vision, even the most important change is probably doomed. The everyday responsibilities and constraints that employees face will quickly overwhelm a vaguely defined change initiative. Without a clear vision that employees understand, you are sure to wind up someplace else.
*Check out http://www.strategyperspective.com/Scope_Creep.pdf for more on scope creep.