Without Vision, People Perish

By R. Keith Mobley, Principal SME, Life Cycle Engineering
As appeared in the
February 2013 Edition of Reflections on Excellence

I teach a Reliability Excellence for Managers course as part of the Life Cycle Institute’s business education series. The course is four, three-day sessions of classroom study interspersed with assignments conducted in participants’ organizations over a calendar year. The course provides the knowledge these senior and middle-level managers need to lead their organizations to sustainable excellence. It forces the participants to change, sometimes radically, their understanding of how their company functions and what true excellence looks like. To many it is quite a culture shock.
In the first session, we begin the journey to excellence with the importance of a clear vision, one that everyone in the organization can understand and embrace. Invariably they immediately push back. In detail, they explain that they already have a vision statement. We spent months in meetings, rewrites and reviews to create our vision; we do not need to waste time here. Sound familiar? 
Because a shared vision is so critical to a successful transformation and a sustaining continuous improvement culture, we have no choice but to press on. We try to help course participants understand that what most of them call a vision statement is of little value and certainly does not meet the criteria of one that will galvanize the entire organization into a cohesive team—all focused on shared values, objectives and goals. To help them understand, we ask that they compare their company’s vision statement to the three unofficial rules for a vision statement: 1) it must contain all currently popular buzzwords; 2) it must fit on one PowerPoint slide; and 3) it must be one continuous run-on sentence so that one runs out of breath before completing it. Most of those tested over the past few years have met all three criteria.
A properly crafted vision statement will concisely define what your company will be when it achieves sustainable excellence. What will it look like, how will it function or behave? Rather than general statements, such as “we will be the best…,” define what the best looks like in words that all can understand and embrace. It must be unifying, drawing functional groups and the workforce together into a focused effort toward that shared vision.

Of course, vision is not enough. Specific objectives and goals that stretch the workforce and systematically guide the transformation are essential. They provide the roadmap to the future. Each objective effectively supports one or more components of the vision and in turn, intermediate goals that assure achievement. Each of these objectives motivates the workforce by providing a challenge, a challenge that is achievable. The visioning process is not difficult. Proper execution yields the desired results; poor execution does not.
One of the many lessons I have learned the hard way over years of leading change is that without a clear, unifying vision nothing changes. The vision acts like a lighthouse, its beacon provides a target—a direction—that, day or night, keeps us on track. Knowing where we are going helps us—all of us—go in the same direction and ultimately achieve our vision. Combined with supporting objectives and goals, we have a roadmap as well as a centering beacon that guides us to our vision.
Without a clear path forward, one tends to wander aimlessly, first going one way and then another. As individuals, we are uncomfortable aimlessly wandering through life. As a group, aimlessness, compounded by group dynamics, morphs the workforce into a shapeless group of people that mills around accomplishing relatively little. Human nature cannot tolerate aimlessness. Each of us needs direction in our life to be content. We need a vision—a challenge—something that makes us want to get up in the morning and go out to meet the new day. Without it we are simply not complete—we perish.

“Without Vision, People Perish."

Thank you for taking the time to read this month’s letter. Hopefully, it has raised a few thoughts that will help you take the next step in your journey to excellence. I welcome your feedback and am happy to respond to specific questions. You can reach me at [email protected].

Best regards,
R. Keith Mobley
Principal, Life Cycle Engineering, Inc.

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Keith Mobley has earned an international reputation as one of the premier consultants in the fields of plant performance optimization, reliability engineering, predictive maintenance, and effective management. He has more than 35 years of direct experience in corporate management, process design and troubleshooting. For the past 16 years, he has helped hundreds of clients worldwide achieve and sustain world-class performance. Keith can be reached at [email protected].

© 2013 Life Cycle Engineering, Inc.


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