Vision statements. Over the years I’ve seen and been a part of many vision statements. Their intent: to state an aspiration for an organization, a group, a community…an entity. To the external world, the vision is an assertion of the type of experience and culture a person *should* takeaway from interacting with that entity. To the internal side of that entity, the vision statement should have a number of material components. There needs to be a next level down, subsequent next level down, alignment and most importantly, accountability.

A next level down takes the vision statement and details out each word or meaningful grouping of words. A next level down helps the various groups that make up the entity understand how the vision statement, in either tangible or aspiration ways, includes, requires and depends on them. Groups need to be able to play back the vision in their own words. With their own materialized examples. Doing this in an active dialog helps ensure that all groups in all directions, if directions is a thing in your entity, begin speaking the same language. It helps ensure they all have the same spoken interpretation of that vision. Ideally this happens while the vision is being developed vs. a handed down document-festo. Doing the latter will steepen the hill to adoption. I know this because it is something I’ve failed to do or advocate for over the years.

Personally, I’d like to think most agile and emerging devops organizations are not overly hierarchal. That said, the subsequent level down group in the entity, hopefully one level, maybe two at most, produces a ‘tightly aligned to the main vision’ statement of their own. That statement then has a detail of each word or meaningful grouping of words. The people that make up this group are deeply immersed in this vision they helped form. They understand how it ties into their daily work. They understand how the decisions they make do or do not align to that vision. Yes, on occasion deviation from or a challenge of the vision is important as it helps foster continuous improvement of the vision itself.

The third component of alignment is key because it is the road to accountability. An entity and its groups must first align on the vision. This isn’t a one meeting deliverance type of activity. It takes iterations. It takes time. It takes participation and listening. Failure to do this results in a steep hill to alignment. Again, this I know because I’ve failed to do it over the years. Alignment is important for many reasons. The most obvious reason is: if there isn’t full alignment throughout the entity, how can it ever realize the maximum from its vision? How can the entity ever reflect, as a collective group, on that vision and iteratively improve if not all are aligned? To the external world, an unaligned entity will not project nor reflect its vision. To the internal world, there will be cruft. Cruft isn’t good for vision. It isn’t good for teams or humans. We should find cruft and get rid of it.

The last material component is accountability. To this point, we’ve defined a vision. We’ve done multiple next levels down on that vision. We’ve aligned on the vision. Now we have reached the hard part. Holding every person in every group and the whole entity accountable to their part in the vision. This is where almost every single vision I’ve seen, studied, participated in and read about has died. Accountability to a vision isn’t top down. It isn’t bottom up. It isn’t horizontally at one layer. It is like a fine service mesh. It weaves through every person in the entity. Everyone and every team has to hold themselves and each other accountable to not only the vision but evolving the vision where required. Any one gap or disconnect simply weakens the mesh and puts the vision at risk.

Why is all this important? Think about the groups that span the entire entity. The groups that support all the other groups. In some cases, this group that spans the entire entity is lean. It tries to optimize to the vision to provide support, capabilities or services at scale. If one or more groups are not aligned and accountable to that vision, it breaks the optimization. It places stress on the group and magnifies the challenges that come with lean groups. It diminishes the group’s ability to operate at scale.

Ultimately this leads to diminished realization of the vision, stress on teams and affects the people who come to work. I once saw a leader of NetApp talk about their transformation. He didn’t speak to this particular topic in this way. He spoke to how seriously the company took the vision and its resulting transformation. It was the seriousness and the commitment across the company that made it a success. It is one of the few examples where I can imagine they spoke about this topic internally and executed on these four material components.

Vision matters, we need to know where we’re going. Alignment and accountability to the vision matter more.

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