Friday, February 17, 2006

Power of Vision, Mission and alignment

  Posted by Picasa There seems to be a lot of confusion around about what exactly are vision and missions, how are they different, and even if they are worth the effort?

I think this has occurred because missions were imposed on many organizations and were done as form of compliance. As a result they may have lost whatever prestige they may have had. Often they not even able to be articulated, let alone actioned, by staff members!

If schools are in this situation perhaps it is time for them to reflect about what their schools stands for and to ‘revision’ it’s purpose. To do this properly all in the school need to be involved if it to be actioned. If it doesn’t’ attract the ‘hearts and minds’ of all as worthwhile why would they bother?

There are too many examples of highly successful organizations that have tapped the power of a shared vision to dismiss the idea. Toyota is but one example that exemplifies what it means to pull together under a single vision and mission. Such organizations are not only focused on the future they are equally focused on creating the conditions for future growth within – they are, to use another maligned idea, a ‘learning organization’.

Visions are often reduced to a memorable phrase, or metaphor but without action they are only dreams. And the dream must connect emotionally with all those who are involved in the organization and not be the product of a few selected thinkers. Often the vision will ‘emerge’ as part of the process of ‘visioning’.

Visions are often followed by a statement outlining agreed Core Values and Beliefs

Vision by itself is not enough, you also have to know how to get there and this is the mission – and from the mission flow actions, goals, strategies and professional development.

The Mission Statement outlines what the organization does to realize its vision.

All the above need not be more than a page or so – there is no advantage it seems in wordy documents

Alignment is vital. Alignment is where vision meets reality. Alignment is the secret ingredient that holds any enterprise together as in a good football team. In any game the vision is to win, and the mission is to win with the mix of talents and skills that the players possess. And when things ‘click’ you have alignment.

But at the same time, paradoxically, an organization has to listen to those with contrary views and be open to new ideas if it is to grow. And new ideas often come from the edge!

The leader’s role in a modern organization is to keep the vision, the picture of the ideal future, clear in everyone’s mind, and to create the conditions to make use of all the talents of staff members. This involves negotiating core beliefs and expectations with everyone to define the boundaries within which staff members can exercise their individual creativity.

In the school setting this equally applies to every individual teacher and their students.

Leadership at all levels is vital to ensure to the integrity of the organization, as determined by the vision, is kept to the forefront. Without leadership organizations too easily lose their sense of direction and purpose and become wound up in processes and procedures. When the focus of vision is lost organisations become controlled by regulations and compliance. This can also happen when imposed targets are set, as worthy as they are, that replace the vision as the priority. The targets may well be achieved but often at the sacrifice of the philosophy and beliefs of those involved.

Vision can also be lost when accountability measures inadvertently make people focus on easily achieved results at the expense of the visionary aspirations. Too few measures focus on the important aspects of life and learning – on the core beliefs, philosophy and relationships that are so important in any organizations.

When vision is lost the status quo reigns and a conformist compliance non risk culture is established – and this leads to the death of any organization. In a frenetic world of fast unpredictable changes and imposed expectations it is all too easy to lose track of the big picture.

When organizations are clear about the direction they want to go in, are aware of the challenges, and are clear about what they have to do, open to new ideas, a learning culture is established.

Culture is what holds a ‘learning organization’ together, not rules and regulations. The stronger the culture the more the people will get behind the vision. Culture counts. It defines ‘what is important around here’; what behaviors are, or are not, accepted. It is the sum of the norms, behaviors, guidelines and values held by any organization. It is about how we treat people.

As the vision defines where we want to go, the mission what we do, the culture defines who we are.

Like vision culture cannot be imposed from the top – both are ongoing interrelated processes. Lasting commitment evolves when everybody has been involved in setting the direction and mission of the school. Ownership is vital – people generally support what they have had a hand in developing. Compliance comes from being told what to do; commitment comes from a shared vision.

And the measure of all alignment should be against the vision. If people get behind the vision there is a good chance of success. There will always be resistance and challenges but if the vision is inspirational they will be reduced to experiences to learn from

It is the power of alignment behind the shared vision, mision, values and beliefs that drive the learning process forwards.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Bruce - this has cleared up my thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Now that the focus has returned to teaching and learning ( after all the managerial nonsense of the past 15 years) it may be time for schools to sort out what beliefs underpin the teaching of their school.

The only policy most schools haven't got is a learning policy!

Anonymous said...

A well chosen cartoon - sums up most schools I would think? Most are to distracted by managerial and compliance requirements to see the wood for the trees!

Anonymous said...

If schools took visions seriously then things would change but too often they write them and then ignore them! They are a joke in most schools.

Anonymous said...

Creating new visions requires sticking ones neck out; courageous leadership. The trouble is too many managers and not enough leadership in education - we have been over-managed and underled!