Vision Quest

Vision is a squishy subject that makes normally confident executives squirm. Vision is Big. Important Stuff everyone's expected to subscribe to. But in an effort to find Universal Buy-In most efforts drain any real substance from the issue, leaving nothing to disagree with. But also no direction. The vision nets out to one of the embarrassingly trite mission statements immortalized by Dilbert's cadre of managers -- "Go Team Go...Fight-Fight-Fight."

An effective Vision is neither a PR positioning statement or a HR propaganda slogan. It needs to identify what's going on in the world and what the corporate entity intends to do about it. It should guide decisions. Most of all it absolutely must have Universal-Buy-In...meaning the process that creates Vision absolutely positively must be founded on the relevant -- and mutually agreed upon -- facts/issues driving the corporate destiny.

The tool delivers 20/20 vision. Describes what's going on in the competitive jungle and actions required do something about it. It produces a realistic and relevant understanding of how the world is changing. Provides direction to resolve future-forward issues that have not yet been recognized. Creates clear-cut delineations of opportunities and an early warning of impending -- but still avoidable -- disasters. Generates checklists of existing and must-develop corporate capabilities and assets. Leads to practical decisions instead of theoretical discussions.

Most importantly the process itself creates Universal-Buy-In. Eliminates the turf-wars. Deadlocks. And gets stalemated managers off the dime. It does this in two ways: First it provides an empirical basis for resolving disputes. It centers discussion on relevant facts and minimizes decision making based on "I think" vs "In my opinion." Secondly -- and this is key -- it forces the young tigers and old praetorian guard that manage the functional silos within the corporate structure to do it together. Select the relevant facts. String them into critical issues. Synthesize them into workable strategic directives.

The process involves a four step effort in which the beneficiaries themselves generate the critical insights and gain achieved -- rather than received -- wisdom. Key executives assigned to the Vision Team and a panel of demographers, sociologists, academicians, suppliers, customers, futurists and industry-watchers compile a diverse assortment of hard facts and soft speculations that collectively represent the DNA of corporate change.

In a day-long workshop members of the Vision Team individually select related DNA components which can be synthesized into a cohesive DNA strand carrying a genetic function relevant to long term corporate growth. These individual constructs are submitted for the review, revision and recombination efforts of the Team who then debate the relative merits of each chain and ultimately select half a dozen DNA constructs to synthesize into a comprehensive Vision. Because the data-set is real, relevant and has an audit trail tracing back to a set of facts or credible future-forward speculations -- and because managers are not force fed input by outsiders but derive and debate the issues most relevant to their corporate responsibilities -- the exercise delivers a big payoff: 20/20 Vision + Universal Buy-In.

The executive team reconvenes with the purpose of determining how each of the selected DNA strands engineered into the Vision will impact the value chain -- from R&D to Customer Service -- for every line of business. The recognition of these genetic changes amount to a comprehensive projection of exploitable opportunities available to the corporation. Or an early warning of impending -- but still avoidable -- disasters. Both suggest the corporate assets, structure, systems, strategies, skills, staff and shared values the corporation must develop -- or acquire -- to evolve into the entity most likely to thrive in the envisioned world in which it will compete.

If the corporate vision looks like a smudged Xerox platitude that's been customized by a scotch taped corporate logo it's time to wonder how the thing that controls the corporate heart, soul, guts and nervous system can differentiate it from direct competitors. Or other shareholder investment options. Or even other employers.

Vision Quest was created in response to Ameritech's question: what is vision...and how do we capture it? It was a world class question worthy of any corporation determined to maintain a competitive edge in a running battle with world-class competitors.

In addition to the Telcos, other institutions that would particularly need to develop 20/20 vision include the deregulated gas and electric industry. Any hi-tech operation interested in crossing the legendary chasm between early adopter successes and mainstream consumer markets. PC's searching for a response to the shake-up precipitated by Dell's direct selling vision. Businesses dealing with the evolving baby boomer phenomenon. And virtually anyone impacted by the internet.

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