Academic journal article SAM Advanced Management Journal

Building a Shared Vision

Academic journal article SAM Advanced Management Journal

Building a Shared Vision

Article excerpt

Leaders who are able to master change do so because they can define a clear vision and, as important, they can show people how to achieve it. Anything less is wishful thinking. Robert Fritz defines this process as creative tension (Senge, 1990), and says it comes from seeing clearly where you want to be (your vision) and then telling the truth about where you are at present. The difference between where you want to be and current reality generates a natural tension. Such tension can be resolved by raising reality toward your vision or by lowering your vision toward reality.

Leaders can create this tension. If there is no vision, there is no tension. If there is no tension, there can be no change. There have to be both vision for what can be done, and an understanding of reality, for change to be possible. Neither is enough to bring about change. Even if people understand reality, even a reality of desperation, change might not occur. To change the way you work, you must believe the change will bring something better. It is the leader's responsibility to create this picture of what can be and in the process to create tension.

The Role of the Leader

Peter M. Senge, Director of the Systems Thinking and Organizational Learning Institute at MIT's Sloan School of Management, describes the role of the leader by asking a group of managers to pretend their organization is an ocean liner. He asks, if your organization were an ocean liner, then who would you be? Not surprisingly, most of the managers answer "the captain." Others say they see themselves as the navigator or even the engineer down there stoking the fire. Some, perhaps hoping they are giving the right answer, say they see themselves as the ocean liner's social director making sure everyone is involved and communicating. While all of these positions may be important, there is one that eclipses them all in importance.

Peter Senge was one of the first to emphasize a neglected leadership role is that of the designer of the ship. If the captain says to change course, and there is no rudder, then there can be no change. If an order is given to turn to the left, but it is designed to turn only to the right, then no amount of effort to change direction will matter. If you want to implement rapid change, but the organization is designed to resist change, then change will be slow. Design is the key to change. It is not a matter of choice: you cannot avoid designing, and even inaction is a design decision.

Designing the Ship

There is more to organizational design than simply moving around departments or changing lines of authority. Organizations, like ships, need a frame, a foundation on which everything else is constructed. The frame of an organization is its purpose, vision, and the core values by which people act and interact. (Senge, p. 10) Both ships and organizations can be created in a haphazard manner, but truly great ones have a structure that underpins key decisions.

One example of how core values and vision can affect decisions involves the Tylenol tampering case in 1982. After several deaths were reported when people took Tylenol, Johnson & Johnson pulled all Tylenol off the shelves and then destroyed 31 million capsules. They were destroyed even when they were tested and found safe. Peter Senge notes that while such a decision was costly, there was no other choice. It was a decision designed into the organization more than 40 years before.

Any great organization needs a vision, a credo to live by. At Johnson & Johnson, the culture is built on four interrelated components:

* service to the customer comes first;

* service to the employees and managers comes second;

* service to the community comes third; and

* service to the stockholders comes last.

Such a credo may sound like apple pie and motherhood, but in the Johnson & Johnson case it seems to have been a factor. …

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