Help, my manager has a vision!

February 19, 2012 at 5:26 pm | Posted in Ramblings, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

I started my career about 20 years ago. The first week I got an email from my group leader in which she told us that she had scheduled a meeting with an important topic. This was back in ’91 or ’92 and there were quite a few layoffs due to the crisis and first Gulf war around that time. So a couple of days later when the meeting actually took place and the whole group (that was 3 people!) looked at her in anticipation and a bit of fear. And then she started the meeting with “It is important that we as a group have a mission statement.” I only remember that we looked at each other slightly uncomfortable and thought what the hell is she talking about.

In the following 20 years I have been in this situation many times, so I thought this would be a nice opportunity to write down a simple step-by-step plan to handle such a situation.

Step 1: the Steve Jobs test

This is a very simple test and only takes a couple of seconds. Is your manager a major pain in the butt but at the same time you get a lot of energy when he or she is around? In that case he might actually have a vision which is worth listening to. And even if you don’t listen, if he really is like Steve Jobs his vision will take off anyhow. On the other hand, if your manager is a dull bureaucratic type of person who never had an original idea in his life, it might very well be that he recently has read Steve Jobs biography and mistakenly thinks that he can do that as well.

Step 2: gather the facts

Maybe your manager did read the biography. If not, his silly ideas must have originated somewhere else. There are a couple of possibilities: if you noticed many consultants around the office during the last weeks or months, they might be the source. The other possibility is that there has been an announcement at the company level. You might have noticed an e-mail from the CEO in your mailbox, or maybe even a new company logo. Typically a vision trickles down to the workfloor, where each management layer will take anywhere between a week and a month. This also means that your manager probably doesn’t have a choice: he must have a vision, aligned to the company vision.

Step 3: try to understand the vision

This sounds like a useless step, especially if it is already so obvious to you that your manager isn’t Steve Jobs. However, this only takes a couple of minutes and it is important for the next step. The goal of this step is to find out if by mere coincidence, your boss still has laid out a brilliant vision. Just like the Infinite Improbability Drive this might give tremendous energy to your unit, your department of your organization.

Read the document or presentation. If it is larger than 1 page or 1 slide you can already stop. This is not a vision. Next scan the document for words like ‘better’, ‘cheaper’, ‘faster’, ‘most cost effective’, ‘best in class’, ‘thought leaders’, etc. etc. Real visions don’t include those words.

In the unlikely event that the vision is real (it is motivating and inspiring) you can skip step 4. You are a lucky person with a great manager! Congratulations!

Step 4: handling the situation

You are still reading this because apparently your manager’s vision is as was to be expected: meaningless. Now you have a couple of options to handle this. Let me explain them for you:

Wrong way to react

Telling your boss straight-out that his vision is stupid and a waste of your time is not going to help. Of course his vision is never going to happen but you don’t want to be the person he is going to point to as a scapegoat. It is also not going to help during your yearly performance appraisal.

OKish way

Usually you can quite safely ignore your manager’s vision. Main reason is that there will be a new manager and a new vision anyhow within 1 or 2 years. If you want to have a little bit more fun you can start a lively discussion on the difference between a vision, mission and a strategy, because most likely your manager will have them mixed up. You don’t need a degree in business administration to do this. However, don’t overdo this in large groups because it might make your manager feel stupid.

Right way

However the best way to react is to fully embrace your manager’s vision! First you express your enthusiasm: tell him his vision is very motivational to you. Tell him that he really should share his brilliant ideas with the world for example by writing a white-paper or a blogpost. Make sure that you do this in such a way that he will have to do all the work and won’t be able to delegate it to you. Also make sure that you don’t overdo it: telling him that he should get the peace nobel price for his ideas is probably a bit too much and might raise his suspicion.

After you have shared your enthusiasm you can now weave in your personal agenda. Here is where the results of step 3 come in: if one of the keywords for example is ‘thought leader’ than you can use this to explain that this cool conference in Hawaii on some state-of-the-art technology you want to go to is really helping to support his vision. If you feel self-confident you can also rephrase this as ‘with this practice I can help you to operationalize your vision so that as a group we can really meet our business goals.” Additional benefit: you can refer to all your support during your performance appraisal.

Final words: don’t take me, this blogpost, your manager or yourself too seriously 🙂

Have fun!

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