Ryan Martens at the Agile Development Blog recently talked about strategies for adopting Agile in larger organizations and he referred to a 5-stage process described by Peter Senge and others in The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook (Currency Doubleday, 1994). Senge’s books are bibles for systems thinkers. In the section Martens refers to, the book outlines a strategy for building a shared vision.
A shared vision replaces command-and-control management. Leaders used to be able to get people to do things by commanding them to do it. Some still do that today. The problem with this approach is (a) the hierarchy it demands is slow and no organization can afford to be slow any more, (b) employees who only do as they are told are not as innovative, productive, or engaged as the organization needs them to be, and (c) most employees hate it.
The alternative to telling people what to do is to involve them is creating a shared vision, “a sense of purpose that binds people together and propels them to fulfill their deepest aspirations,” according to the field book.
The book identifies five stages, shown in the diagram above, to help build the listening capacity of senior leaders and the leadership capabilities of the rest of the organization. You can follow these stages to bind people together in a work unit, department, or division, or around an initiative like Agile. The key, according to Senge, is to assess which stage you are at now and then develop a plan to move to the next stage.
“The competitive advantage which comes from building learning organizations is not possible without members’ full participation in setting direction and priorities,” the field book concludes. “Anything less is suboptimizing. The question is no longer whether organizations will move to meet people’s deep need to feel their aspiration fit with a larger purpose. The question is only when, and how. The choice in today’s organizations is to lead in this process or fall behind.”
I’m reminded of how Wainwright Industries, which won the Baldrige Award in 1994, created its shared vision. This is how I described it in my book, Uncommon Sense:
The company decided to hold a two-day, off-site meeting of about fifty managers and associates to begin the process of creating a mission statement.
“I came into that meeting with about five pages of the most beautiful prose you’ve ever seen,” remembers co-owner Don Wainwright. “They told me that wasn’t anything like what we are, and my pages ended up in the trash.”
Don shared his vision for the company. The managers and associates shared their visions. The off-site meeting concluded with nothing decided, but with a much better understanding of how people felt about the purpose and mission of the company.
Two months of debate followed, with associates submitting their ideas for the mission of Wainwright Industries. When the final mission statement was chose, it reflected the personal visions of Wainwright’s associates: Continuous Commitment to Our Customers’ Future. It was suggested by a man who had been with the company for forty years.
That’s what it means to co-create a shared vision.
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