A structure for enterprise-vision

A great conversation yesterday with Swiss solutions-architect Jean-Paul de Vooght brought up the thorny problem of ‘enterprise vision’.

As the ISO-9000 standard makes clear, some kind of vision-statement is a literally essential requirement, to provide the ultimate stable anchor for an organisation’s quality-system – and thence its architecture, as a key structure in and component of that quality-system.

The problem is that most so-called ‘vision-statements’ just don’t work. Most of those of that I’ve seen read like meaningless blobs of marketing puff – “To be the best bakers of the century” – to which the most likely response is a somewhat-bemused “Yeah… So what?”

The reason why they don’t work is that they’re entirely organisation-centric: there’s literally no place for anyone else in that story. What does work is a succinct phrase, or tag-line, that describes a domain of common interest – the extended-enterprise within which the organisation acts out its role – and that provides not only an anchor for the quality-system but a reason for others to engage with the organisation.

But so far finding the right phrasing for a workable vision-statement has always been difficult – it’s so easy to fall back into useless marketing-puff instead. What came up in the conversation with Jean-Paul was some useful pointers about valid phrasing. Looking at examples of vision-statements that seem to work – Open Group’s “boundaryless information-sharing”, TED’s “ideas worth spreading”, brewer Lion Nathan’s “creating a more sociable world” – each seems to have the same structure, or content for structure:

  • a descriptor for content or focus: “boundaryless information-sharing”, “ideas worth spreading”, “creating a more sociable [social] world
  • some kind of action on that content or focus: “boundaryless information-sharing“, “ideas worth spreading“, “creating a more sociable world”
  • a qualifier that validates and bridges between content and action: “boundaryless information-sharing”, “ideas worth spreading”, “creating a more sociable world”

Note that none of these describe the organisation at all – but do describe the focus, the area of action, and the key value-metrics which define the meaning of ‘success’.

In effect, what this kind of vision-statement offers is a simple assertion: “this is what interests us – and if this interests you too, perhaps you should speak with us“. And the huge advantage it offers the organisation, in addition to providing a real anchor for the quality-system, is a core shift in marketing from ‘push’ to ‘pull‘ – much, much easier and more effective all round.

To illustrate this, I’m reminded of an advertising campaign back in Melbourne some years ago by one of the power-companies. (I’m quoting from memory here, so it may not be exactly correct, but it’s close enough, I hope. 🙂 ) The billboard shows the stadium at a night-time football-match. Huge crowd, all intently engaged in the game that we can’t quite see. All of the crowd, that is, except for one guy, standing up, dressed in yellow rain-slickers, facing the other way, staring intently at the floodlights. The caption: “We’re excited about electricity, even if you’re not”. The implication being that when your interests do touch the ‘extended-enterprise’ of electricity, we’re the right people to come and see.

A key point here is that whilst in our work-lives may emphasise only one extended-enterprise, in our lives in general we touch many, many different extended-enterprises. As someone (Chris Potts, I think?) recently put it, “people don’t appear in our business-processes, we appear in their experiences”. A valid vision-statement helps people identify which organisations work in which extended-enterprises in which ways and with what priorities, and thus help them choose why to engage their experiences with a specific organisation – in a way in which everyone wins.

Hope this helps, anyway.

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