Desired State of Evolution
Source: Brudan, 2010
The pursuit of organizational clarity and alignment towards a strategic direction has preoccupied researchers and practitioners for many decades. Especially over the last 50 years, a variety of management concepts have been popularized and adopted by organizations with more or less success.
Some of the early articles on the topic of strategic planning and clarity focused on clarifying how the concept of planning applies to various settings (Pryor 1964, Smiddy, 1964) or in proposing frameworks for strategy formulation (Ansoff 1964). Two such management concepts that gained popularity since then are mission and vision statements.
Towards the end of 1990, the interest of both researchers and practitioners focused increasingly towards exploring the use of integrated approaches that link strategic management concepts related to corporate identity: mission, vision, values and capabilities or competencies (Raynor 1998, Stuart 1999).
The trend of integration of mission and vision statements in strategic management models or frameworks continued with the anchoring in the vision statement of concepts such as the Balanced Scorecard. Kaplan & Norton (1996) placed vision and strategy at the centre of the development of the Balanced Scorecard. To facilitate the linkbetween the Balanced Scorecard concept and the mission/vision statements, a “destination statement”approach emerged from practice (Andersen, Lawrie and Savic 2004, Lawrie, Cobbold and Marshall 2004,Lawrie, Cobbold and Issa 2004, Lawrie and Cobbold 2004).
Overall, reviewing the last 50 years of use of strategic statements in organisational management several issues can be identified. One of them is related to the confusion in practice regarding their use. The evolution in time of the usage of both mission and vision statements was followed by a certain degree of confusion in practice regarding their use. Like many other management concept, the bridge between theory and practice was not as smooth as planned. Many organisations confused the concepts, using the terms interchangeably. Many more adopted various standards in developing such statements, ranging from one liners to multiple pages. By late 1998s, this confusion was evident: “’vision’ and ‘mission’ are words whose power is overshadowed only by the confusion which surrounds them” (Raynor 1998:368).
A second issue is related to the integration between concepts. While several conceptual models were proposed over time (Raynor 1998, Stuart 1999), they were not followed by visual representation models that linked the concepts in practice, not only during their formulation, but also after, during their use. Visual representation tools that link mission, vision, competencies and values are rather exceptions and not the rule. Even when concepts such as the destination statement were supported by visual representations of their use in practice, the illustrations were mostly textual and not explained in detail to facilitate their understanding and future application.
Thirdly the dynamic of the use of missions and visions statements has changed over time and the current use in practice lacks an instrument that facilitates their linking to other concepts. The Balanced Scorecard concept is such an example. While the need for translating the vision into objectives and measures is promoted widely in the literature on the subject, the availability of instruments that facilitate this process and its understanding is limited. “Destination statements” contribute to the linkage between strategy and corporate identity, however their scope is limited to a snapshot in time and they are lacking solid visual and conceptual links to mission and values.
The Desired State of Evolution
In addressing the issues identified above, it becomes clear that a possible solution needs to go beyond a conceptual level to a practical management tool that integrates the main organizational strategic statements. While many organizations already represent such statements visually one next to the other, this is not common practice and varies greatly in form. The premise is that by developing a new tool that represents all these concepts on the same page, benefits will be realized both in terms of conceptual clarity, understanding and in terms of new insights generated by exploring and refining linkages.
The concepts selected for such a visual representation are a combination of new and old, grouped in three levels: Purpose and Identity at the bottom, Desired State in the middle and Vision at the top. Together, they are linked in a sequence that can be described as the “Desired State of Evolution” (as illustrated in the figure above).
The first level, “Purpose and Identity” is represented by the mission and values of the organization. The mission statement is essential, as it represents the reason why the organization exists. Linked to it are organizational values used by many organizationsto drive behavior, being considered an integral part of organizationalculture. By linking them to the mission, desired state and vision, they become an important component ofthe strategy management system and key elements or organizational communication. Using a visualmetaphor of the organization as a tree, the mission and values represent the roots of the organization, theessence of its being.
“Desired State”,the second level of components is represented by three sets of elements. This is an intermediary level that makes the link between mission and vision. It integrates the “destination statement” approach (Lawrie and Cobbold, 2004) of representing the desired state of the organisation at a future point, while adding structure and rigour in documentation.
- The first set of elements of this desired state is formed by internal oriented capabilities, competencies, value drivers or key success factors. They provide a useful approach to clarifying questions such as: “What is key to our success?”, “What are we trying to do?”, “Where will all our efforts lead to?”
- The second set represents the projection of the organization in the external environment. It is not enough to have well developed internal capabilities and be successful at operational efficiency. The relationship between the organization and the environment is at least equally important. This second set of elements is formed of external oriented capabilities, competencies, value drivers or key success factors.
- The third set or layer of element is exclusively quantitative and is represented by the major achievements the organization desires to complete by a specific date in the near future. This date is generally set in accordance with the strategic plan of the organization, completed for a period of 3-5 years.
All these three layers of the desired state (descriptive internally focused, descriptive externally focused and quantitative) should be recalibrated during strategic management review processes, to ensure they are realistic and aligned with the changing realities in which organizations operate today. Using the tree metaphor again, these three layers of elements represent the trunk (internally oriented), leaves (externally oriented) and fruits (as results or achievements).
The third level of the “Desired State of Evolution” is represented by the vision statement, as a representation of the desired state of the organization in a more distant future.
The sequence: Values -> Mission -> Desired State -> Vision represents a storyline that illustrates the desired evolution path of the organization.
Along with the components and their visual representation, the choice of terminology is an important determinant of clarity and understanding of the concept. The term “Desired State of Evolution” is preferred as it expresses three different elements of organizational life.
“Desire” is a term inherentlyrelated to humans and human behavior. It reflects the fact that the human element is the most importantcomponent and determinant of organizational success.
The terms “State” and “Evolution” are interrelatedand reflect the fact that organizations are in a continuous change process, evolving along with theenvironment surrounding them. This evolution and change process has been a key theme oforganizational studies research for over 50 years now. However, in an organizational context, the use of the term “evolution” was replaced by theterm “change”. While “change” may have more comforting connotations for some, it lacks the perpetualnature of the term “evolution”. Thus, the use of the latter is preferred, as it reflects the ever-changingnature of organizational life.
The term “State” represents the “buffer” between the organization today andin a future characterised by change and uncertainty. Having a clear picture of how in what state will theorganization be at a specific date in the near future, provides a much needed anchoring point fororganizational planning and other systems. At employee level, it clarifies what is the desired operatingstate of the organization where the efforts to deploy projects and initiatives, meet targets and achieveobjectives will lead to. From this point of view DSOE can be a powerful communication tool, both internallyand externally.
Contribution and use
While proposed as a new management tool, the Desired State of Evolution complements the existing set of similar instruments used by organizations. There are three main ideas expressed its architecture.
Firstly, it is an integrating management tool that links other similar tools to enable clarity. It follows the trend in recent years of building on existing concepts and integrating them to form a more clear and easier to understand structure. Integration is ultimately a key role for managers: “…the principal constituentsubelements of the generic work of a Professional Manager, as such, are to Plan, to Organise, to Integrate and to Measure in exercising Leadership to achieve chosen results through the work and initiative of other people…” (Smiddy, 1964:89).
Secondly, it uses rich humanistic management terminology that ensures distinctiveness and relevance. This terminology is aligned with the usage in practice of the concept, as opposed to other similar instruments that remain a “statement” in name only, as in practice they are represented by manyparagraphs of text. More importantly, the terminology emphasizes the aspirational nature of organizational activities, driven by human characteristics and behavior.
Thirdly, it uses logical, yet simple visualization. The reliance on data in today’s organizationsleads to the growth of Business Intelligence, which brought with it the need for relevant infographics anddata visualization solutions. Content is not sufficient anymore, it needs to be supported by visual representations that facilitate its understanding. The development and representation of the Desired State of Evolution combines relevant content with smart data vizualisation. This combination is a major component of the value it ads – its practicality, as it is represented by a theoretical concept supported by a simple visualisation in practice.
Overall DSOE contributes to both management theory and practice, as it links previous concepts in a logicalmodel that can be easily replicated by organizations. Thus it represents a much needed anchoring pointfor various organizational systems, ranging from strategic planning, performance management and budgeting to communications and human resources management. It addresses some of the alignment and understanding issues that surround the use of values, mission, vision and destination statements today, as by listing all of them on the same page it highlights duplications and simplifies communication.
An important aspect to note is that the Desired State of Evolution can be customized and used at all organizational levels. Functional areas and teams may choose to develop their own version, based on the one adopted by the organization. This way, they may benefit by an additional level of clarity and detail specific to their own working environment. The question of how much should be customized and how much should be kept the same as the organizational level remains open. Ultimately preferences will vary and is not something to be prescribed. It is however a relevant area for future research.
Being a conceptual tool used in practice, the testing of its use and results are highly dependent on its understanding of its users and its customization in practice. Important to note is that the process of developing the Desired State of Evolution may be as important as the process of using it.
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