A vision statement sets the stage for operations and aspirations by defining a long-term goal of what an organization wants to be and how it wants to be perceived.
The organization’s operation excellence function should create an aligned vision that identifies the “excellence” aspects of the vision. Before getting into the details of the vision and specifically OpEx vision, let’s review several key organizational statements.
Mission, vision, and values
The three interconnected elements of an organization’s statement of being—mission, vision, and values—describe what the entity wants to do and be and how people in the organization will act. These items result from lofty thinking and need to be articulated and communicated internally and externally with consistent messaging. All three should happen before the creation of strategy and deployment, which will, in turn, lead to the nuts and bolts of the organization’s structure, operations, and tactics.
Values are likely to be a small set of one-word or two-word characteristics, such as integrity, honesty, customer focus, respect, teamwork, empowerment, and continuous improvement
Leaders and team members throughout the organization are expected to internalize these values and live up to the ethical expectations they represent. Because values represent the culture as a whole, it’s highly likely that stated values will be consistent across all departments in the organization.
An organization’s mission states “what we do.” Articulating the purpose of an organization helps all stakeholders know what to expect and what to do in the present. The mission statement cascades from the vision in a new organization. Each department uses the overall mission statement to create aligned missions and tactics for its own operations, giving guidance on what to do and how to work.
The vision states “what we want to be” in the future. In an existing organization, the vision statement is a progression from the mission. If the vision is a natural evolution from the current mission, the team can evolve with structured continuous improvement. If the vision is one of disruptive change, the organization will need breakthrough thinking and actions. Departmental visions are again aligned overlays of the organization’s overall vision, helping employees in each area see why they are being asked to do certain work.
Taking a look at vision
People sometimes have trouble articulating a vision. After all, we don’t have crystal balls and certainly can’t project all the changes the world will see—even in the short term—given the rate of technological and other changes of modern times. However, without a vision, organizations tend to stagnate.
Nearly 30 years ago, Jack Welch, who led General Electric to some of its great successes, said: “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.” GE’s vision was simple, yet encompassed its operational aspirations: “We bring good things to life.” The company has expanded dramatically, with each of its four current divisions of “building, curing, moving, and powering” working toward specific compelling paths, still echoing the earlier vision.
Amazon says: “Our vision is to be Earth's most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.” Amazon sold its first book in 1995 and within 20 years has become one of the largest companies in the world, with a market cap of $400 billion. It’s constantly innovating ways to fulfil its vision. For example, Amazon made its first customer delivery with a fully autonomous, no-human-pilot drone on December 7, 2016. It has leveraged the electronic capabilities needed to fulfil its vision by providing Amazon Web Services (AWS) as a computing and storage services for others, essentially creating a new multi-billion-dollar business from the infrastructure originally created to serve its customers. Based on its ubiquitous presence and business results, Amazon seems to be achieving its vision quite nicely.
Although it wasn’t identified as a vision when George Eastman in the late 1800s created the slogan “You press the button, we do the rest,” he in effect described a vision of making photography accessible and easy for anyone. For a century Kodak was the undisputed global leader in consumer photography. In the late 1900s after Kodak invented the first digital camera, that same vision could have helped the company maintain leadership by making the new digital photography accessible and easy for anyone. In fact, by then Kodak had a vision of being “the world leader in imaging,” which should have included new digital capabilities. However, the company clung to an operational model built on film-based photography and missed new opportunities, with the result that it fairly rapidly went bankrupt. Two lessons from this story are that vision must adapt as the world changes and that simply stating a vision isn’t enough; it has to be acted upon.
Creating a vision
Unlike a spiritual vision that appears as if by magic, an organizational vision needs to be created. The first step in creating a vision is picking up a pen. Because the vision is so important, organizations may spend many hours, days, or even weeks drafting and debating very specific wording.
The resulting statement should define an output that is aspirational and achievable. It should have enough specificity that it provides differentiation from competitors and other industries. It can contain some level of quantification and it should be in simple and relatable human terms, without jargon or marketing hype.
The process tends to follow logical steps:
- Gather inputs – Consider values and mission (what you are and what you do)
- Assess the current situation – Consider SWOT (how you compare to competitors)
- Articulate a draft vision – Get cross-functional input
- Test the vision and revise – Is it realistic and inspirational? Get more input
- Define overall strategic elements – Capture rough timing and resource requirements and assess achievability
- Articulate a final vision – Make it succinct, memorable, and inspirational
- Communicate – Make your vision visible to employees, customers, suppliers
- Execute – Create and execute aligned strategy and tactics
The vision according to OpEx
Ideally, the operational excellence vision will be created in lockstep with the overall organizational vision. In general, this co-development applies to all functions since the overall vision needs to incorporate all parts. When a vision is created jointly it develops greater ownership and commitment than does a top-down effort that is dispersed without input.
OpEx can have a special role in creating the organization’s vision by providing inspiration and structure for the creation process. After all, many OpEx practitioners have a facilitation toolbox with numerous methods for managing ideas. Structured brainstorming can help to gather many thoughts while funnelling processes, such as affinity diagrams, can help to digest and transform these ideas into content that can be honed to the precise words appropriate for the organization.
As the overall vision is being created, OpEx will work on its aligned operational vision. The organizational vision will focus on the “what” and “why” of the entity’s existence. The operational vision will address the questions of “how” and “to what extent.” These are not the specifics that will show up in tactical plans, but instead the approaches, such as continuous improvement or breakthrough creativity, and the comparative positions, such as world-class or highest perceived performance.
The process follows a similar path as the organizational vision, a bit of a PDCA cycle:
- Gather information.
- Create a vision.
- Test and revise.
- Develop plans.
Vision quite naturally leads to strategy and deployment tactics (goals and tasks). Once the vision statement is completed it isn’t just put in a drawer. It needs to be reviewed regularly to see if proposed activities are aligned, to look for new opportunities, and to assess the need for modification in a changing world. Use your vision to guide you to the place you want to be.