Thursday, November 1, 2007

The power of vision

…I quit cigarettes forever

In 1992, after smoking for the better part of three decades, I quit cigarettes forever. I had quit before --- countless times --- and it did not last. Why did it work in July of 1992? Well, I think there were several reasons: social pressures, rising cost of cigarettes, my mother’s death 15 years before from what was probably smoking-induced cancer, and increasing pressure from the younger people in my life to give it up. However, there was a difference this time which was purely psychological: I could see myself smoke free. I envisioned clothes that did not reek of cigarettes, a fresh smelling car, a day uninterrupted by cigarette breaks, and more cash for other things.

I truly believe that imagining myself as a non-smoker was the big difference. That vision of a smoke free Bob came true, mostly because I could see myself clearly as a non-smoker.

So what? Bob is some big hero because he quit smoking? No, it illustrates a powerful principle that can help us all achieve more.

From the football player who sacks the quarterback to the bride who loses ten pounds before she walks down the aisle, the vision of the goal stokes the fire of achievement and helps get the desired result.

Microsoft spent millions developing and promoting…

It can work in business, too. Microsoft spent millions developing and promoting the Microsoft Solutions Framework for success in managing complex technology projects. One of the key elements of the framework is a vision of the desired outcome(s). This vision assures everyone involved shares the same definition (vision) of the project’s success. Strategic plans routinely include descriptions of the desired future state of the enterprise. This kind of strategic vision for the future status provides both a road map for achievement and a measure of success.

The power of the vision can be effective on a more tactical level, too. I once ran a customer support organization that was struggling to keep up with customer service demands. Working with the staff, I created a vision of the best customer service available and began implementing changes to support it. The first step was to start telling our customers that we provided the best support available in our industry. We shared the vision with our customers and within a few months, the vision became reality. We were the best customer support organization in the industry and we had the awards and customer retention statistics to prove it.

Personalize it for the team members…

So the next time you want to achieve something, create a vision of what the world will be like when the goal is met. Personalize it for the team members, making sure you define what they will be doing, how they will feel, and other clear indicators the goals has been met. Set a time certain for the achievement and be very specific: for example, “I want to complete the vision blog by the close of business on November 2, 2007. When it’s finished, I will feel proud, relieved and happy. I will celebrate with a shot of the good brandy.”

If the goal involves complexity, you may need a plan to achieve it. An easy way to develop a plan is to work backwards from the goal date to the present, detailing the actions needed to achieve the goal. Think of it like building a house. If your planned move in date in December 1, 2007, think of the last thing that has to happen before you can move in: get an occupancy permit. Before that, you need final inspections. Before that, landscaping must be completed. Before that, utilities must be turned on. By moving backwards from the goal, it is easier to identify the milestones and processes needed to achieve the desired end result.

If you try to plan forward from today, it is much harder...

Don’t be afraid to explore alternative sequences and different approaches. But always work backwards from the goal. If you try to plan forward from today, it is much harder and will take far longer to develop a plan. And the likelihood is that the forward moving plan development will produce an inferior result.

Motivate yourself and your team with colorful, carefully crafted visions of the end result and you will be rewarded with a better future.