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Does Your Vision Need a Reality Check?

Only on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise does saying, ‘Make it so,’ make it so.

That’s one of my favorite responses to leaders who say, “My team simply has to do more with less–our vision is too important to hold back now!”Enterprise bridge.003

Yet I constantly hear of leaders who use setting a vision as a license to squeeze more out of already-spread-too-thin staffs.

“Vision motivates!” they say. “Think of how JFK’s bold declaration landed a man on the moon in less than a decade,” is their response to my own space analogy. Right. But…compare your reality to NASA’s before insisting on your vision. Vision AND Reality are a polarity–two interdependent sets of values that over time need each other. Here are some key questions to check whether your vision is too far ahead of reality:

  • Do you have the resources? Check out the stats on NASA’s investment in the Apollo moon landing. In a ten-year period, NASA spent over 25 billion dollars on the space program–in today’s dollars each Saturn V launch vehicle cost a few billion. Compare this to their budget of just $900 million in 1961. And, compare their investment in infrastructure–buildings like the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center–from $268 million in real estate in 1958 to $2.5 billion in 1968. Their investment in resources matched the audacity of the goal.
  • Do you have the people? Between 1958 and 1967, the internal personnel peak, NASA increased its staff from 8,000 to 36,000, or over 450%. Further, they had over 375,000 out-of-house contract employees. They were still stretched thin, and the haggard faces of Mission Control personnel during missions showed this truth, but they grew and grew. Doing more with less can only take your vision so far. Get real about how much people can do without burning out.
  • Does the goal tap into real motivation or just the bottom line? In The Truth About Leadership, Kouzes and Posner point out that organizational visions have little impact on employee commitment unless those employees have identified their own personal beliefs and values and perceive that these fit with the company vision. A moon landing? Every physics Ph.D., computer geek and astronomer’s dream. A new product launch? Maybe not.

Jim Collins in Good To Great talks about setting BHAGs–those Big, Hairy Audacious Goals. But he also provides five indicators of good BHAGs. How does yours stand up? Are you shooting for the moon or aiming well with the right vision and resources?

Jane Kise

Jane Kise is a consultant and executive coach. The founder of Differentiated Coaching Associates and author of over 20 books, she works with schools and businesses worldwide to help create environments where everyone can flourish.

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