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  Performance Improvement    by H. James Harrington

Visioning: The Next Generation

Grandiose vision statements, although inspirational, set an organization up for failure and provide little guidance for management or employees.

The very essence of leadership is that you have to have a vision," observes the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, former president of Notre Dame University. "It's got to be a vision that you articulate clearly and forcefully on every occasion. You cannot blow an uncertain trumpet."

Today, nearly every manager in the world has had vision statements explained to them at least once. Most understand the benefits of that explanation and, as a result, many organizations have developed vision statements that define how they will look when they "grow up." Usually prepared by top management, vision statements describe what an organization's output will look like and/or how it will be used 20 or 30 years in the future.

 Vision statements can be as simple as "an affordable, easy-to-use personal computer on everyone's desk" or "news available immediately from any place in the world." But typically, organizational vision statements have taken on a completely different form. Too often, they require the organization to become the biggest, most profitable, most advanced, with the highest quality and customer satisfaction of any organization in its industry.

Grandiose vision statements like these, although inspirational in nature, set the organization up for failure and provide little guidance for management or employees. It's difficult to remain the best at anything for a long period of time. For example, of the top 100 companies in Fortune magazine's 1956 top companies list, only 29 remain in the top 1,000 companies today.

All vision statements should paint a picture of how an organization will look at some specific point in time. A vision statement should provide the organization with insight and guidance that will help lead it from its current as-is state to an improved future state (see Figure 1).


When developing a time-directed vision statement, four factors must be considered:

Qdbullet  At what point in time should the organ- ization be in compliance with its vision statement?

Qdbullet  How much will the organization change under its normal momentum (i.e., normal future state)?

Qdbullet  What is the organization's ideal future state?

Qdbullet  What is the organization's best-value future state, one that is realistic and based upon outside pressures and internal constraints?


Companies should strive for best-value future state solutions. These set challenging, but not unrealistic, expectations for stakeholders. I prefer to develop a series of vision statements that defines how an organization wants to change its internal environment to meet its business objectives. Typical performance drivers that offer solid foundations upon which vision statements can be developed include leadership and support, and customer partnerships.

Employees, management and customers feel much more comfortable with, and committed to, a group of performance-driver vision statements that relate to the way they behave and the situations they encounter every day than they do with one grand, overall vision statement. Usually, these types of vision statements paint pictures of an organization's best-value future state two to five years in advance. These statements represent a commitment from management to provide the resources required for the company to transform from the as-is state to its best-value future state.

Once the organization has painted its performance-driver landscape, it can then begin its improvement processes. Starting any trip prior to defining a destination may provide the illusion of movement, but it results in a great deal of wasted effort and often leads to failure. An estimated 40 percent to 80 percent of total quality management initiatives fail. You can argue over the exact percentage, but even if it's 5 percent, it's too much. Most TQM initiatives fail because management didn't paint a picture of the best-value future state and communicate it to the organization before selecting TQM improvement tools.


About the author

H. James Harrington is a principal at Ernst & Young and serves as its international quality advisor. He can be reached at 55 Almaden Blvd., San Jose, CA 95113; telephone (408) 947-6587, fax (408) 947-4971, e-mail jharrington@qualitydigest.com . Visit his Web site at www.hjharrington.com .


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