The team has finally finished the work in defining the change that will chart the course for the organization for the next two years. The resulting organization will be more agile and therefore more capable of avoiding the market problems that the leadership fears. All is well on the surface, but that’s just the shared delusion that the problem has been solved. Everyone has a strong desire to believe that they’ve developed the much-coveted vision that will transform the organization – but have they? And even if the vision is right, will the organization buy into it?
We Want to Believe
If it weren’t so tragic, it would be comical. The team returns, and each believes they understand the outcomes from the planning meeting – only to find out that everyone has their own view of what was said, the priorities, and the changes that will be necessary in their own and others’ areas. However, because there is so much emphasis put on the need for a shared vision, everyone blindly ignores the differences in their positions and perspectives. They fall prey to the cocktail of selective perception, ostrich effect, expectation bias, and subjective validation – and the result is an illusion of congruence where it doesn’t really exist.
The meeting notes and outcomes are filled with platitudes that sound good but mean nothing. Of course, the organization needs to be more agile – but how will the organization become more agile and, more importantly, what does agility mean?
To the extent that there is alignment, it comes not from the proclamations at the end of the process but rather from the process through which the proclamation was formed. In many business activities, the artifact – the deliverable generated – isn’t the point. The point is the process that the participants go through to create the deliverable. The deliverable itself is a distraction from the experience. It’s a way to create the structure necessary to have everyone do the activities that lead to the understanding and ultimately buy-in with the change.
While it’s rarely possible to put everyone in the organization through the same activities that led to the change vision with the core team, it’s essential to understand that everyone in the organization may need some experience to help to make the results make sense. If the rank-and-file worker doesn’t understand the need for agility or the challenges that agility solves, they won’t support them – they may not resist either, but you want engagement.
If the team recognizes changes to the markets where the organization works lead to competitors having an advantage or a reason why the markets are becoming more volatile, it’s important that they slowly walk the rest of the organization through these thoughts so they can understand the need to make the changes in their behaviors that they’re being asked for. Sometimes that’s a conversation, and sometimes it’s an experience.
Dispelling the Shared Delusion
It’s necessary to dispel the shared delusion, to challenge its foundations, and to actively look for places where there are disagreements and confusion before finding ways of sharing both the vision that the change project is to bring about and why those changes are essential. You can start by asking what the vision of the future really means and how to bring it about before asking the questions about whether everyone knows that these changes are necessary and, if not, what kinds of experiences they’ll need to understand the rationale. If you want to get to shared vision and not shared delusions, it will take a critical look at what you believe you know about the clarity of the change.