April 19th, 2011 by
In an effort to build in more “case studies” (using that term loosely) about applying MBM, I wanted to share a story about an experience I had in helping a team develop a vision.
First, it’s important to point out that I’ve done vision development a few times, but am far far far from being an expert on the issue. And, really, the “application of MBM” came more in the use of a few mental models early on in the process followed by us “making it up as we went” as opposed to a fully developed tool or anything like that. So, hopefully, this will be a story where you can learn from my mistakes and see a few ways in which you might be able to apply market-based ideas in your day-to-day life.
Sharing is Caring
A team approached a colleague and me about wanting to clarify their vision. It’s fair to say that this was a “legacy” program for our organization, so there was a lot of history with it and some fairly entrenched conceptions of what the program was and wasn’t (for better or worse). Now, a “vision” in my mind is–at the risk of oversimplification–an entity’s view of how it plans to create long-term value. Our goal here was primarily to help build a shared understanding of the way the program created value among the many people involved in running it–to build a shared vision. How would we know if we reached those goals? Well…. We decided on some soft measures like “people will change their RR&Es…people will come up with new, innovative ideas for products that are more in line with the vision…people will stop saying ‘This program is like our other programs, but smaller.’”
The Process (That We Ignored)
The vision-development mental model that I most frequently now would have been very helpful, had we actually used it. Instead, we made some classic mistakes in implementing it: primarily, that we overlooked the first, critical step. That model suggests that you identify what your capabilities are (the knowledge, skills, resources, etc. that you actually have that are useful), then do some due diligence to build a point of view on the market you’ll be operating in and the customers you may interact with, then brainstorm areas where your capabilities overlap with niches in the market, and finally decide on a vision and strategies to implement.
What did we do, instead? We ended up focusing more on the form instead of the function of this model by spending the large majority of our effort on building a shared vision and communicating it with others. Don’t get me wrong: building a shared understanding is a key step (at least, it’s been very important in my experience). But, we probably could have spent more time clarifying why our capabilities fit the opportunities at hand, and then being open to allowing those discussions to change our vision.
Building A Shared Vision
But, like I said, we spent the majority of our time on building a shared understanding. Here, I think we did some good things. One of the big takeaways for me was discovering that a “vision” is just a really big mental model that individuals have about what we do. Since mental models help us filter information and help us see (or blind us from seeing) opportunities, it’s very important to encourage mental models about our business/organization that are useful and shared. So, we spent time trying to simplify “what we do” to bite-sized statements, and to build metaphors about the vision that could be readily grasped. After many discussion, the leaders realized that this program boiled down to three big elements that were roughly equally important for success–we started to refer to those as an equilateral triangle, and the idea caught on among the staff and served as a short-hand for the vision.
Really, the biggest bang-for-0ur-buck tactic was to simply invite people to discuss and challenge the vision. This we did by simply setting up meetings with a mix of staff, rolling out the vision, and then inviting questions. We did this once before we settled on the “official” vision language (e.g. early on we asked staff involved questions like, ”What do you think the vision of the program is? What should it be? What’s most important or most fundamental about what we do? How do you describe what we do to your grandma?”), and then once after the leaders decided on a final statement (e.g. “What are your thoughts? How would this affect what decisions you make tomorrow? What assumptions are built into this statement we should be aware of?”). Both discussions were key in helping individuals struggle with and build meaningful associations to the program’s larger goals.
In the end, my biggest takeaways were to: (a) fully consider capabilities, and be open to changing the vision as needed based on those discussions; (b) make use of the power of metaphor to help build shared mental models; and (c) discussions–and here I mean an open dialogue, not PowerPoints or posters or talking-at-you meetings–with key players helps build a shared vision and is often worth the investment.
Again, I don’t pretend to be an expert here, but the above story is one struggle I’ve had with implementing the ideas of MBM day to day. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the above, or your stories related to building shared visions.