I have argued before that management scholarship doesn’t change very quickly. I have made the point that research articles that are decades old still offer a great deal of value. That was all well and good until I tried to find pre-reading in preparation for a strategic planning workshop that I would be facilitating. I came across a great article, one that was really relevant in shaping the thinking of my proposed audience, until I read it in more detail. And had to dismiss it as being too old. Understanding why that was true took some thinking.
I’ve written a lot about process. I’ve spent a lot of time sharing what good and bad process looks like, and advocating for better process over best process. What I’ve not focused on—which is an interesting oversight—is the mindset and personality of the people who actually build process for a living. This is important, because it goes a long way to explaining why we get the kinds of processes that we do. And what needs to change if we want to get processes that truly work.
I’ve made the argument that the boxes and lines of models don’t matter as much as the content that occupies those boxes. I’ll go one step further. What really matters is the messiness that underlies that content. Models attempt to simplify and create meaning. The content within the model is just the aggregate representation of the situation in an organization at any given moment in time. Change the context and circumstances, and you will likely wind up with a very different representation that leads to very different interpretations and conclusions. Simplicity is a distraction. If you want to really know what is going on, then you need to embrace the messiness.
Vision statements—like mission statements—need to be specific, meaningful and clear. They reflect our future aspirations, and are an important test of where we are going and why that is important. Like mission statements, though, vision is often vague, imprecise and overly general. For vision to do something, it has to say something.
Pick a strategic plan. Any strategic plan. Read the mission statement, and ask what it tells you about what makes the organization it belongs to unique. All too often, the answer to that is “not much.” Rather than being defining statements of purpose, mission statements are often vague, generalized and designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator. It doesn’t have to be this way.
We often think we know what we mean when we use the term “strategic.” It’s self evident, right? Except, in my experience, it is very often not. Strategic is often viewed as a vague concept outlining general ideas that don’t really provide much guidance, direction or usefulness. Which is exactly what we don’t need more of. My take on what strategic looks like, and the meaning that you should be seeking.