Are Your Organization’s Purpose and Vision Clear?

How do you know if the purpose and vision of your organization is clear?

How do you know if you’ve done enough to rightly connect people to the organization’s mission and vision?

Each time I think of this I’m reminded of Jim Collins’ analogy of having the right person in the right seat on the bus. If that’s important, having people on the right bus is even more critical. Bill Hybels, Pastor of Willow Creek Church, says, “If your vision is not clear enough to upset some people, it’s not clear enough.” Sometimes, organizations act as if it’s more important to have a seat filled than to have the right people on the right bus in the right seat. I’ve seen this many times throughout my career in working with new assignments.

Let’s consider the analogy of traveling. I traveled a lot in my early years. What gives you a sense of confidence that you’re getting on the right plane, subway or bus? For me, it’s really good signs! I was in London over thirty years ago on a business trip. I was on the public transit system wanting to see a particular portion of London. I had a great time with the team that day. I saw good portions of London and enjoyed the trip, but I never saw the portion that I started out to see. One reason may have been because I was a country boy fairly fresh off the farm. But, maybe one reason was the signage. After all, there were smart people with me that were just as lost as I was. That’s the key, isn’t it? Whether we are at the airport, subway or bus station, we need clear signs to know where we’re going. It’s not a pleasant trip if we get lost along the way.

Consider this hypothetical example. Assume you go to the Nashville bus station and one line runs to Memphis and the other to Chattanooga. What if the signs are confusing and you, a Chattanooga passenger, get on a bus to Memphis?

An hour into the ride, you expect to start seeing mountainous terrain. Instead, it starts getting flatter. You ask questions to those around you who are trying to sleep, work, or think. You discover the bus is going to Memphis. Now you are upset.

You start complaining about going to Memphis. You start explaining why you preferred Chattanooga over Memphis. You may even go out of your way to explain why you don’t like Memphis. You complain and contrast the virtues of Chattanooga to Memphis the whole trip.

So what is this like for the rest of the passengers? The four to five people sitting closest, at the very minimum, are getting annoyed at the distractions and the ranting over how good Chattanooga is versus Memphis. Some of the Memphis passengers might start wishing they’d chosen Chattanooga based on how good it sounds. Some may be confused about which city is the best to visit or do business in.

The bottom line is, by the time you get to Memphis, you as the Chattanooga passenger are extremely upset, and the four or five people sitting around you are either annoyed, distracted, confused, or upset about being in Memphis.

Which way to go?

Assume the signage was so poor that there was at least one Chattanooga passenger for every four or five Memphis passengers. In that scenario, you have a bus full of people most of whom didn’t have a good trip. They’re unhappy.

So what’s the point of the story? This is what happens in many organizations. People join organizations without a clear understanding of its mission or vision. Once they find out where they’re going, they are miserable and become a distraction or morale barrier to the people closest to them in the organization. Get enough of those in the organization and the morale and productivity of the whole group will be impacted.

For more on clarity of vision and purpose, read Leon Drennan’s new book, Good King/Bad King – Which One Are You?