Desired State vs. Vision

Takeaways: Desired State and Vision are two powerful tools for helping to build cohesive teams. The subtle differences can be used effectively depending on the situation.

The other day I was coaching a friend about what can be done in the shortest amount of time to help her build a cohesive board. I suggested that having everyone agree on the future Desired state would help to build unity. It’s a small non-profit that funds the un-sexy need of school bus transportation so children can experience music, dance, art and science as part of their education.

Many board members are new to being on a board. The organization is not well-funded, everyone volunteers their time and skills, and most of the funds raised go to funding the bus transportation. There are no clearly defined roles and everyone just pitches in to do things. This has created ineffective communication, duplication of efforts, and finger pointing, with everyone turning to my friend to solve the problems and answer all questions.

I suggested to her that two of the most important things they could do were to get agreement on what and how the organization wants to BE a year down the road, their Desired State, and to clarify roles. Clarifying roles she understood. But she wasn’t clear about what I meant by Desired State. I explained that it’s similar to a Vision. That she understood.

That got me thinking about the distinction between the two. It’s subtle, but very powerful. This has become clearer after proofing my friend Timi Gleason’s re-write of her book, Coach as Strategic Partner. In it she describes effortlessly what a desired state is, and how to turn tactical conversations into strategic ones when they get mired down in details (Look for it soon under a new title.)

Desired State is a future state of BE-ing vs. DO-ing according to Timi. When you describe a Desired State you talk about it as though it’s already happened. You’ve already accomplished this. You incorporate all five senses –sight, feelings, sound, touch, and taste – to describe what it’s like to stand in that future situation.

Vision is a powerful magnet that draws you forward. It’s a possible Desired State to which you aspire. It sits in the future as something you are working towards. It’s the carrot held in front of your nose to keep you moving forward towards the goal.

With a Desired State, you see yourself already there. Once you write it down, you put it aside and let your subconscious actions start working to help you achieve that. You don’t need to think about it because it’s already done. You’re there. You act as though you’ve already accomplished that state. Team members begin to work more collaboratively from the perspective, ”If we’ve already accomplished this Desired State, then for this to be reality, Sales needs to be meeting regularly with Marketing, and Marketing needs to give IT sufficient lead time to prepare the technology, etc.” And it all just begins to happen – like magic.

rainbow handshakeWith a Vision, you hold that before you always as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that you are striving to get to. All your strategies and actions are held up against that Vision as a measuring stick. “Will this event, activity or effort help us get to that pot of gold? If not, we don’t do it.”

The team is still firmly planted in today but each member keeps that vision of the pot of gold as a beacon to work toward. Conversations are easier with less finger pointing because everyone has agreed on the path to the pot of gold. There is no blame when the only question to ask is “how will that effort help us reach the pot of gold?”

Both are powerful tools for helping to build cohesive teams. Depending on the issues at hand and the personalities involved, sometimes using a Vision is more effective than using a Desired State. An organization may actually use both. The Vision may be the over-arching goal of the organization – the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The Desired State is different for each department and even for each issue or challenge being faced, AND it also supports the overall Vision of the organization.

In fact, as Timi so eloquently describes in her book, every situation can be addressed by asking what’s the Desired State? That turns any conversation from a tactical one into a strategic one.

What are your thoughts on the distinction between Desired State and Vision?

Managing Change for Every Type of Organization

By Eric A Denniston, Managing Director, Denner Group International   November 2013

Takeaways: An overview of managing change. What small organizations can do to leverage related skills. Three tips for applying some best practices for any size organization.\

How has your business changed recently, or how do you expect it to change in the near future? All businesses, large and small eventually undergo a major change and this is much more common and sometimes seemingly constant. They are also often undergoing small changes on a regular basis. Employee turnover, rapid adjustments in local market conditions, disasters, new market players disrupting the playing field and shifts in leadership are all common causes of organizations undergoing change.

Managing any organization has always involved managing change, large or tiny, whether it is a manufacturing or professional services enterprise, a non-profit, a school or a government entity. What has occurred over the past 50 years, particularly influenced by the continually increasing sharing of all types of information, is not necessarily that things are changing more or faster. It is really that we are able to predict and create or control change more effectively. We now have more timely information within our reach.

Paradigm Shift in management techniques

This paradigm shift has produced new techniques in management which are now generally referred to as Change Management. A number of individuals, mostly executives at large companies, are credited with leading the development of these techniques. They in turn, have generously credited various other people, employees, consultants and academics, who have greatly contributed to those development efforts. Significantly, those techniques are being widely shared as the thought leaders in management write books and give speeches, and consultants take those “best practices” to their clients.

Perhaps the most common issue I encounter is that small businesses, non-profits and even medium-size companies feel it is beyond them to even consider learning about and using these techniques. I also find that some very forward-thinking small enterprises, eagerly adopt many of these techniques and their level of success is exponentially greater than that of the ones that say “we are too small for that”.

What can an organization of any size do to acquire some of that knowledge or expertise and effectively apply it in their organization? A great first step is to accept that managing change must become a proactive behavior in leading an organization or a team of people. Learning to think about the organization in the context of the whole environment in which it exists is the next most valuable step a manager can take. This is part of what is called Systems or Strategic Thinking.

Additionally, following are some key concepts that, again, any organization, can use to help manage change more effectively:

  • Continually scan the FUTURE environment of your organization by considering how each of your stakeholders will be affecting the organization at a defined point in time in the future. Document what you come up with when discussing this with your colleagues and use the results to define the changes you feel will be needed. Be sure to also document the outcomes that you desire from those changes and make sure you have agreement among those of you responsible for implementing the change.
  • Create a clear plan for the change. Think of it as a discreet project but one that will affect other parties. Then list the parties that will be affected and decide how you will inform or involve them in making sure the change occurs and sticks. Also have a plan for how you will coach your direct reports about how they can assist in making the change happen.
  • Make sure you link your desired outcomes to measures that will help you track your progress toward those outcomes and document your quick successes, as these will help to maintain excitement about the change and its positive effects.

Essentially, stay focused on the fact that you will be moving from your current state to a future state. You need to manage the transition between the two and if you don’t make sure the people affected by the change are involved from the beginning and coached through the process, you are not likely to create a successful, lasting change and achieve the outcomes you desire.