Have you ever seen organizations and teams spinning in circles, having endless discussions, and never seeming able to make progress? Have you witnessed environments where every decision was made by a leader in the hierarchical sense? Or even worse, by someone able to exert a specific power and overrule others?
The scenarios that come to your mind might have one thing in common: They lacked a clear vision, mission, or applicable guiding principles and values (or all of those).
In this article, I want to dive into the exciting and essential topic of engineering vision. Especially if leading without hierarchies and power plays sounds compelling to you, it all starts with getting clarity about vision and mission.
Let’s start by defining the often conflated terms vision, mission, and strategy:
Vision, Mission, Strategy: What is What?
I have seen teams arguing over the difference between vision and mission or confusing vision and strategy. Furthermore, everybody understands slightly different things when we use those terms. Thus, for my articles, I am defining the terms as follows:
The vision describes the what. What shall the organization (or the engineering team) achieve, and why and how does it matter in the context of the overall company vision?
A vision statement should be short, easy to understand, and realistic. Ideally, people feel passionate about achieving the vision and need to believe it is possible. That does not mean that it can’t be challenging. A good vision is motivating, specific, inspiring, and achievable.
Example from unblocked.engineering: A world full of companies without rigid hierarchies, where the best idea wins, people bring their whole selves to work, enjoy working, and have an intrinsic desire to make their company successful.
The mission is still high-level and describes the how. How do you generally achieve the vision? A mission statement is still very open and leaves room for interpretation and alternative approaches to following that mission.
However, it gives an idea of what the organization does to work toward the vision.
Example from unblocked.engineering: Help engineering leaders to build companies that need fewer hierarchies and allow for the healthy evolution of the proper support structures. Creating environments where everybody can unleash their potential and contribute to a shared goal.
Strategies are more specific than a vision or mission statement. A strategy is just one way to follow the mission to achieve the vision. A company can follow several strategies in parallel to achieve the vision.
Depending on how much guidance your team needs, you might find that explicit strategies are not necessary at all in the beginning. I have seen companies where clarity about vision and mission, combined with explicit values and guiding principles, worked wonders.
Having a vision and mission lets your team develop strategies creatively. Therefore I do not necessarily agree that strategies must be set from the top. In a high-purpose environment with a clear vision and lived guiding principles, strategies will evolve in various places.
Some examples from unblocked.engineering:
- Give training and workshops about building high-performing teams and how to lead without hierarchies.
- Speak publicly about self-leadership, organizational design, and self-organizing organizations.
- Work with CTOs, VPs, and their teams as a consultant and coach to help them evolve their organization to become more human-centric and high-performing.
The Importance of a Compelling Vision
With the clear differentiation between vision and mission, let’s talk about the importance of the vision:
A compelling vision is crucial for the success and growth of any organization, especially in a high-purpose environment. It is the foundation for strategic planning, decision-making, and team alignment. If you use a planning framework like Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), the objectives will likely be derived from the vision.
Here are some reasons why having a compelling vision is essential:
1. Provides direction and focus
A clear and compelling vision provides a sense of direction for the entire organization. It defines the long-term goals and objectives, ensuring everyone understands the organization’s work. This clarity helps teams to prioritize their work and allocate resources effectively, thus increasing overall efficiency and productivity.
Furthermore, it is the basis for meaningful values and guiding principles and allows people to reflect on how they can contribute to working towards that vision.
2. Inspires and motivates
An inspiring vision has the power to motivate team members. When employees see the potential impact of their work and how it contributes to the organization’s larger goals, they are more likely to be engaged, committed, and passionate about their roles. A compelling vision instills a sense of purpose, making work more meaningful and fulfilling.
When people at all levels of the organization understand the vision, they should be able to know how their work contributes to achieving the vision. Furthermore, they can question their work if they cannot connect the dots. This ensures a better understanding and reduces the risk of working on the wrong things.
3. Encourages innovation and risk-taking
A compelling vision challenges the status quo and encourages team members to think creatively and take calculated risks. By setting ambitious goals, the organization fosters a culture of continuous improvement and innovation. This mindset helps to drive growth and adapt to changing circumstances.
A massive advantage of a vision in contrast to specific strategies is that it is far less likely to be obsolete. It is also changing less often. Thus, it provides high-level guidance without limiting the freedom and creativity of the teams.
4. Aligns teams
A well-defined vision is a common thread that binds different teams together, ensuring everyone is working towards the same goal. This alignment facilitates cross-functional collaboration and communication, breaking down silos and fostering a more cohesive and efficient work environment.
A clear vision provides an excellent foundation for resolving conflicts. When everybody understands the vision and commits to achieving it, teams have an agreed basis. Every conflict can be solved with a structural approach, starting with the vision in mind and figuring out at which point the disagreement occurs. Often, this is a place of misunderstanding or uncertainty, where creative thinking leads to better solutions.
5. Enhances decision-making
Even if a vision is pretty broad and leaves plenty of room for interpretation, it can already serve as guidance for decision-making at all levels of the organization. When faced with difficult choices or trade-offs, team members can refer to the vision to help them prioritize and make decisions that align with the organization’s long-term objectives.
6. Attracts and retains talent
Organizations with a clear and inspiring vision are more likely to attract and retain top talent. Employees are increasingly seeking purpose-driven workplaces where they can contribute to meaningful goals and make a positive impact. A compelling vision helps to create a strong employer brand and establish a reputation as an organization that people want to work for.
A visible vision in the hiring process increases the likelihood that new-joiners buy the vision and want to support it. When vision, values, and guiding principles are visible on the outside, a cultural fit is far more likely.
7. Builds resilience and adaptability
A compelling vision helps organizations to navigate challenges and adapt to change. When faced with setbacks or disruptions, a strong vision provides stability and continuity, allowing the organization to maintain focus and stay the course.
The engineering vision is the North Star that gives clarity about the purpose and goals of the engineering organization while leaving plenty of freedom for the engineering teams to figure out the best strategies to achieve the goal.
This was part two of the high-purpose environments series.
- Part three will be “Crafting a Compelling Engineering Vision” .
- Part four will cover the “Importance of Values and Guiding Principles for Distributed Decision Making“.
- The topic “Engineering Excellence through Mission-Driven Teams” will be covered in part five.
- The sixth and final part will be “Engineering Strategy: Actionable and Specific Guidance for Growing Engineering Teams”.
A compelling vision is a critical component of any successful organization. It serves as the foundation for strategic planning, decision-making, and team alignment, inspiring and motivating employees to achieve their full potential. Organizations can foster a high-purpose environment that drives growth, innovation, and long-term success by crafting and communicating a powerful vision.
Want help creating and communicating your engineering vision? Schedule a free call with me to discuss how I can help you.