In a small company developing solutions in currently hot technology, they had the one and only customer. Demand for work fluctuated in time just a little. They work on multiple projects in parallel, so there is always something to do. Mostly maintenance, sometimes the development of something small.
People there were dissatisfied and complained in secret. Some dream about the large developments they were promised when hired.
Out of sudden, all demand has stopped. In this rare occurrence, none of the projects needed something for the next release period. It is around a quarter when the people can get back to work again. A little panic arose in the head of the manager.
“Since nothing to do for next few weeks, why not look onto job portals” thought developers and update their CVs at job portals. “Can we leave somewhere?”
Talking with the manager, I realized that there is no vision nor strategy in place. He has admitted he is a junior, but everything went fine until now. Since the technology is hot and demanded on the market, I suggested my help. We can define strategy, create a business plan, and rearrange this group into a modern organization. I can also help as a mentor or with my contacts in the first steps onto the real world.
A month later, he rejects my offer. What’s happened? There is a new agreement signed there, and the only customer will pay for all capacity regardless of its use. The need for change vanished. Now, business is like it always was, cemented into old paradigms. Almost, because some people already left.
Is this good or bad?
Without a clear vision or quantified objectives on the paper, it is not easy to judge. As an external expert, I can see underperformance. I can see the frustration of people working there. And I also can see a lack of interest among the owners. It results in a mediocre performance, run by the mediocre manager, whose motivation remains unknown. If the group delivers, everything seems to be ok.
Why having the vision matter?
Managing knowledge-based organizations is unique in many ways. The value of the organization is intangible, hidden in the heads of the people. People who master the hot technology are requesting challenges by nature. If managed on stability, they adapt into some extreme form, which will harm their future perspectives and the organization. Or they leave, with devastating consequences for investment into the teamwork, skills base, and opportunities.
Vision is the essential ingredient for an agile organization.
Vision helps us define strategy, objectives, and purpose. It enables us to invite co-workers to challenge it and tailor it. It helps us attract the right people into the organization. It helps us select suitable managers and appoint leaders for the leadership role. Based on performance, not on the length of stay with the organization. It helps us energize people. It encourages engagement. It helps be transparent, thus preventing bureaucracy and politics. It helps people to think about value and implement it into their decisions. It encourages broadening skills.
Vision helps us prevent placing mediocre people, or those on the stable phase of their life trajectory, into positions, which require ambition and a steep trajectory instead. It helps us identify and prevent negative behavior. If managed right, it supports managers in overcoming challenging obstacles.
About the author: Michal Vallo builds agile organizations and helps managers to understand agile techniques, benefit from its adoption and consequently radically improve organizational performance. He is agile trainer, coach, and manager at Aguarra, a founding member of Agilia community and organizer of Agilia Conference / Agile Management Congress. Feel free to contact him if you need help with your agile adoption.