A classic quote from the annals of business history came from Lou Gerstner. After a couple of months in the CEO job in 1993 at IBM, the business press was hounding him to describe his vision for IBM. At the time, the company was in disastrous shape; rapidly depleting its cash and headed for bankruptcy. Gerstner shocked the press by stating: “the last thing IBM needs right now is a vision.”
About a month later, having completed a massive number of customer and employee interviews, Gerstner sent a company-wide e-mail indicating that the new game plan for IBM was: “to help customers solve their IT-related business problems.” The primary focus would be the customer, the key measure would be customer satisfaction ratings, and the company would be re-organized around customer teams. Basically, Gerstner was making it very clear what it would take to be successful. You can call it a vision if you prefer.
I have seen organizations take a horrendous amount of time involving hordes of people trying to figure out a vision for the future. Often they hire consultants and go through extensive exercises that end up costing the organization lots of money and tons of time. Even worse, they end up with some voluminous document with many complicated action steps.
Gerstner teaches us what gutsy leaders do:
1.) Get the data on what’s going on with your customers, people and products, develop options, evaluate them, and then select a game plan.
2.) Communicate the game plan or vision, whatever you want to call it. It should be summarized in one easy to remember sentence that makes it clear how you will win in the marketplace.
3.) Communicate the measures to be used. They should be reliable and easy to generate.
4.) Put top performers in the key positions. Also, individuals that are not buying in should be replaced quickly.
Net, avoid those time consuming, people intensive visioning exercises that generate bulky summaries that get ignored!