No sooner did I complete that last post than I found this excellent entry by Chris Corrigan. Here’s a big chunk from it:
I believe that an organization’s vision is as messy and apparently incoherent as the organization itself. Ask around in organizations with which you work and see if anyone actually has the vision statement committed to memory. They generally don’t. Which isn’t to say that individuals don’t have a vision. But ask them what their vision for the organization is and maybe what they think the organization’s vision is and start a conversation about the difference between the two.
When I run Open Space meetings and we are doing visioning and the agenda gets set, I point the sponsors to the wall and invite them to look at the two dozen or 40 or 50 topics there and say “There is your vision.” The sum total of where everyone in the organization wants to go IS the vision for the organization. Diluting these nuggets of intrinsic motivation down to one fairly empty statement in an effort to extrinsically motivate people does nothing to work with the actual vision that is there.
Vision is a personal thing. In Ojibway culture, one needs to spend a lot of time cultivating a vision. In Ojibway cosmology, humans were given the unique gift to dream and have visions. In fact, human self-fulfillment comes through visioning. It is something which lives deep in the person. When groups of people come together, the vision that motivates them is their own. If that vision connects with others, then you have an organization. If not, then people don’t come together to work.
You can point to commonalities in the visions of people within an organization. For instance, a development NGO might have a motherhood vision statement that says “we’re here to help” because that is a component of nearly everyone’s personal vision. But to say that “this is our vision, and everything we do is motivated by that” isn’t really true. Actions are undertaken by individuals for a greater purpose that simply the “organizational vision.”
So I guess I’m saying that organizations aren’t in fact singular, coherent wholes. They are networks of individuals that come together and come apart all within the frame of a larger mission such as “making cars” or “providing medical care” or “loaning money.” These little networks appear and disappear as they are needed, not because of a vision created to extrinsically motivate behaviour.
(Thanks also to whetever piece of software is scrambling Chris’ RSS feed at the moment, which mysteriously shoved this item from January into my aggregator this morning. A little chaos can be a good thing.)