Managers plan, workers work. This traditional organizational philosophy
was introduced during the industrial revolution as people moved en masse from
farms to factory jobs.
Based on the writings of F.W. Taylor and other leaders of scientific management, this approach worked reasonably well until the mid-1950s when the effects of global competition, advancing technology, and a better-educated work force were first felt. Ever since, organizations have been wandering in the wilderness, searching for ways to adapt their traditional organizational philosophies to increasingly dynamic business environments.
Today's business environment, with its focus on satisfying the unique needs of customers, requires organizations to be flexible and innovative while producing low-cost, high-quality goods. To be successful in such demanding circumstances, firms are responding with flatter organizational structures, increasing employee empowerment, and decentralized decision-making. However, these responses create conflict for those firms that cling to their traditional command-and-control types of systems. No matter how hard they work at it, these firms cannot generate flexibility and innovation while maintaining their high-inertia hierarchy.
Developing a shared organizational vision may solve the dilemma. Vision can form the vital missing link during this time of transition. Vision setting should occur at all organizational levels, as long as the exercises remain consistent with the corporation's overall vision. At the broadest level, vision consists of three major components: purpose, mission, and a vivid description.
Purpose. An outgrowth of the organization's core values, purpose should be fundamental, inspirational, and enduring. Every organization should be able to spell out its purpose in one or two sentences. A common error is for companies to simply write a description of their current product lines. Every organization has a purpose, but most companies have never successfully articulated it. One example is "to make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind."
Mission. A clear and compelling goal that serves to unify an organization's efforts, mission is more specific than the broader and more enduring goal of purpose. A mission has a finish line and a specific time-frame for achievement. Most missions are stated in one of two forms. One is targeting, which sets a clear, definable goal and aims for it, e.g., "Before the end of this decade, land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth." The other form a mission takes is when it focuses on defeating a common enemy, e.g., "By the year 2000, become the dominant supplier of products that link the physical world to information technology." A mission should rest on the boundary between possible and impossible. It should be proactive not reactive.
The one universal requirement of leadership in this new age is to catalyze a clear and shared organizational vision, and to assure commitment and vigorous pursuit of that vision. Without vision, organizations have no chance of creating their future, they can only react to it.
Ask the Manager
Q In your article "Diversity: Opportunity or Threat to Workers?", you said that "We are inching away from a work force dominated by white males to a more diverse work force...the percentage of white men will continue to decrease over time as the others increase." Do you think this would have been possible without the equal-opportunity mandates?
A Historically the U.S. has been and continues to be a melting pot, and we are stronger for it. Our population is becoming more diverse and so is our work force. It too will be stronger for it.
Q Let's suppose there were no equal-opportunity mandates. Do you think that companies would go to a larger pool of talent to find the best qualified people, regardless of race or gender?
A The most successful companies would certainly try to hire the best qualified people.
Q I agree with your view that firms must embrace diversity as a way to support growth in the global marketplace. However, I'm struggling with the idea that firms set up diversity programs to comply with equal-opportunity mandates. Detroit has met the Japanese challenge on quality without government mandating "minimum quality targets," for example
A The article did not suggest setting up diversity programs to comply with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) mandates. Rather, competition will force firms to hire the best, and this will result in a diverse work force. This will not happen overnight, but it will happen. For example, at the University of California, Berkeley, 50% of the incoming engineering majors are female or from minority groups, and the entire classes' high school GPA is about 3.9 out of 4.0. Over time, minorities will become integrated into the work force.