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Are we going to the same beach?

As we begin the new school year and memories of summer semester start to fade, let’s consider the message we give our teams about our vision for the new school year.  Let’s ensure that, when we are describing our vision, we are clear on where we are going, provide sufficient detail to ensure all team members have clarity, yet not diminish their ability to be innovative, and ensure that by choosing to embrace the vision, we will all arrive together, at the same place, full of confidence, energy and pride in our achievements.

Lets engage the use of an analogy.

I have decided to invite 20 close friends to a BBQ on the beach (very Australian!).  I open up Facebook, scroll down my list of friends and invite them to the event.  With interest in them feeling excited and wanting to come, I proceed to describe the beach we are going to.  I write about wide stretches of white sand, crystal, clear water, not too deep, with waves not too high.  I write about deckchairs for everybody, umbrellas and grass areas if they wish to get our of the sun or off the sand.  I don’t forget to remind them to bring towel and plenty of sun lotion!

When I am confident  that I have made the beach sound inviting and fairly sure that everyone is on board, I sign off with a ’see you there!’.

When the day arrives, I decide to get to the beach early, but notice that only a few people have arrived.  As the clock ticks, it becomes clear that not everyone is coming.  A few telephone calls later, it appears that people have gone to the wrong beach.  Everyone had their own idea of where the beach was.  Each beach was justified as meeting my description, but it wasn’t the beach I meant.  Most people went to their own beach, except, of course, the people who knew me well.

Leading the direction of an organisation is a difficult task.  It is made more difficult, when we fail to provide enough clear detail of the destination we are heading to and why we are going in the first place.  People want to know where they are going, so they can align their work and their thinking to the new direction.

In the analogy above, we don’t prescribe how to get to the beach, only clarity about which beach we are going.  Innovation happens in the way people get to the beach, by working individually or together, to get to the destination in a fast and efficient manner, at less cost and energy.  People might opt to travel together, car-pooling, saving money by getting a taxi together, using public transport to save parking etc.  Innovation and creativity begins to happen when the destination is clearly set and people are left to their own devices to get there.

Can the beach change?  Of course!  If a better, more exotic beach, that better meets the needs of the team can be suggested, why not?  The only consideration would be to ensure that all invited know that there is a change and have time to adjust their preparations in order to arrive at the new place on time.

So when setting direction for your team or organisation, ask yourself one question.  Are we heading to the same beach?

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