M. was holding a passionate plea. He vigorously drew a circle on a flip chart and pointed at to the top: ‘we’re here now. At the same spot as a few years ago. Then we went down to the bottom of the circle in which we all had to be “one”. It cost us a lot of time and money and it miserably failed. And that’s why we’re back here, all strongly promoting our own identity. And now you want go down again… I would strongly recommend a rethinking of that strategy.’ The last sentence, put as an advice, sounded as a serious warning of the doomsday to come if senior management was really to pursue their idea of integration.
Difficulties in getting the vision right
I was facilitating this group of managers from the United Nations for the second time. Last year was about visioning, this year about implementation of the vision. Most discussions did not settle within that year. Though most of the participants actively and positively participated in creating the vision last year, the consequences were not easy to accept.
And it shows the difficulties in getting the vision right. The level of support seemed great after last year’s retreat, yet had proven to be hollow. It turned out many in the room were wary about integration (which was euphemistically called coordination).
What could Senior Management have done differently? And what would have made a good vision? Obviously, the first mistake was to convene the group just once a year. A vision will never make it if, as a group, you just discuss it on the yearly retreat.
Don’t settle eternal discussions in a vision
But more critically: what had been presented as a vision became nothing more than a proposed settlement of one of the eternal ongoing discussions instead of describing an imaginable, feasible and desirable goal. The vision did not focus on what external goal to reach, but on settling internal cacophony. Antoine de St-Exupéry quoted it in a beautiful way:
‘If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.’
And that’s what the vision forgot to do: cherishing and nurturing the longing for delivering the best services to their partners whatever the internal arrangement looks like.