Turning Your Vision into Reality

by Rita Seelig Ayers

Today, corporations are going through significant changes and turmoil with what often appears to be continual restructuring, reengineering and downsizing. Corporations are learning to be competitive. I believe it is a time of crisis. But as the Chinese word for "crisis" is composed of two picturecharacters  one meaning danger and the other meaning opportunity  we can seize opportunity if we are willing to take some risks.

This article focuses on the steps an organization should take once it has identified its vision. Vision is defined as the concept or picture of what your organization can or should be; it requires that you fulfill the unmet needs of your customers. For an organizational unit to be successful, its vision needs to be placed in the context of the larger visions of the corporate organization, and those responsible for achieving the mission need to understand how it meshes with that of the larger organization.

How do you create the reality that your vision forecasts? What do you need to do? How do you get there from here? If you manage the risks and take advantage of opportunities, you will be able to turn your vision into reality.

Though the path to achieving your vision is usually not obvious, with the benefit of hindsight, one can often work back through the decisions that were made, the actions implemented and the resultant success and see a logical progression. As you proceed through the visioning process, you will often wonder what the next appropriate step is. Will it be successful? It won't always be. It is a risk. But, let me offer some general guidance that can help you achieve your vision.

Corporate cultures are different. The background, education and training of the individuals in your organization are different; and each person is in a different place regarding the development of his or her individual potential. As a result, how the challenges and opportunities will be met is likely to be different for each information services (IS) department.

Despite the variability of organizations, four general issues need to be addressed by all organizations:

  1. Recognize the capabilities of your current organization
  2. Recognize the decisions that need to be made and the changes that must occur
  3. Recognize the importance of people in achieving the vision
  4. Recognize your needs in relation to the larger organization
These four issues align with four phases for achieving your vision:
Phase 1: Analyze your organization
Phase 2: Develop your organization
Phase 3: Value and develop your people
Phase 4: Maintain and develop your sphere of influence

Phase 1: Analyze Your Organization

The first phase requires a tactical approach and addresses the first issue, recognizing the capabilities of your current organization. This phase defines a current state and is largely descriptive. The traditional approach to defining the current state of IS involves enumerating a list of services such as:

The development of a data model, definition of core competencies and development of a value chain will significantly augment the traditional approach to describing the current state.

Data Modeling. Conceptual data modeling is a technique used to represent, interpret and understand data important to a business or function. It helps you understand what information is needed to operate your function and identifies the commonality that exists within your organization or function. It provides a first step to understanding where redundant work is being performed and indicates potential business simplification or integration opportunities. Process models reflecting the current state can identify basic work flow and offer similar opportunities.

Core Competencies. Next, what knowledge, skills and abilities does your staff have? This provides the basis for defining your core competencies, those underlying capabilities that allow you to be effective information professionals. Information professionals enable better corporate business decisions by selecting, organizing, analyzing and retrieving the information needed in decisionmaking. It is critical that you understand your core competencies and distinguish them from core skills. Core competencies will remain relatively stable over time, while the core skills needed to implement them will change.

Value Adding Chain. Developing a valueadding chain can be useful in accomplishing the objectives of Phase 1. It captures the inputs or raw materials you need, reflects the fact that your organization or function transforms those inputs from various suppliers and produces products at several levels, and shows who your customers are. Do you serve research or development? Do you provide technical support to manufacturing or sales? Do you focus on business, legal or financial aspects? Understanding whom you intend to serve is critical. The valueadding chain is also a tool that corporate management readily recognizes and understands.

Next, determine which services provide the most value. This requires talking to your customers to understand their needs and values, which may differ for each organization. In our analysis, we found that our customers need and value the following things:

Such a list reflects a view of the current state. It should give you an understanding of where you might bring the greatest contribution to your corporation. Where are the holes in your offering? What are you doing that is less valueadding or better done by someone else, either within your corporation or on the outside? Once this is accomplished, you may proceed to Phase 2.

Phase 2: Develop Your Organization

Phase 2 evaluates how your organization measures up. The results of this analysis will help you recognize the decisions that need to be made and the changes that must occur. It requires a hard and honest look at your organization. This process is likely to be painful, but it is absolutely critical. For the results of Phase 2 to be successful, you must operate at a more strategic level, taking a broader view of the IS organization: what it does and how it fits into the larger picture within the corporation.

A clear mission statement and/or business definition is a necessary foundation to provide the context in which you will evaluate your organization. The conceptual data model and process models you created in Phase 1 will help you understand how your organization works from a functional, rather than an activitybased, position. It also lets you create a picture that reflects your future state.

Does your staff possess the necessary core competencies as you have defined them in Phase 1? If so, are they aware of it? If they do not possess them, what education or training do they need to develop the appropriate core competencies? If they already possess them, do they recognize that they possess them, and do they recognize the power that gives them and the organization? Do they understand how transferable that knowledge is to solving broad information problems?

How might you develop that recognition? Discussion and validation of the core competencies and models can help create that awareness. Have you shared your vision? Is it their vision too? Taking the opportunity to help individuals understand when they have applied their core competencies empowers you and your staff. Don't let your staff take themselves and their knowledge and capabilites for granted. Make sure that the information professionals recognize their role and responsibility to be the resource that enables improved corporate decision making.

Focusing on valueadded tasks that require your core competencies may require you to recognize and make hard decisions about outsourcing or eliminating certain work. It may require that you downsize in one area to increase capability in another. If people do not have the appropriate capabilities and will not or cannot develop them, you may need to replace them. It is difficult to get people to stop doing what they have always done. Focusing on and prioritizing the most critical valueadding tasks is necessary in developing a strategy that takes innovations and moves them to implementation.

Finally, is your organization accountable? Have you established the tools for capturing the work you do? Have you developed adequate ways to measure your contributions and successes? Accountability is critical to your credibility. Everyone in your corporation has to accomplish more with less. You need to be able to help members of the corporation understand the value of the dollars they spend with your organization. You need to recognize that they are your customers.

Phase 3: Value and Develop Your People

Although the process described in this article is laid out as a series of phases, some can be worked on concurrently. I encourage you to start Phase 3 as soon as possible. As the leader of an organization, you need to take every opportunity to understand what leadership really means and to develop leadership qualities. A vision can only be realized if you understand how important people are. Develop strong communication skills and recognize that you need to communicate at many levels. A firm belief in people and teamwork and a commitment to consensusbuilding will help you achieve your vision. Personal integrity and credibility are critical. In many cases, the opportunities your organization confronts will depend in part on the management's view of the organization's leader. Dedication, perseverance, patience, faith  they will all help you get there.

Strive to be the type of leader who helps people so that eventually they don't need you. The best leader helps others learn what they need to do to develop their potential and improve performance and effectiveness. Your role is to help them discover what they want to do. Give them the freedom to believe in what they are doing and to enjoy their work. Unleash the tremendous power of accomplishment that each individual possesses.

Spend time sharing your vision with all the members of your organization until the vision becomes theirs. You need to spend the time developing a shared understanding of empowerment. Empowerment is critical to success, but the definition of empowerment must be understood or the result may be anarchy. My definition of empowerment is understanding and supporting the vision, mission and goals of an organization and using that knowledge to gain critical information, understand the potential impact of the decision on the larger organization and ultimately make a decision that can be supported and that moves the organization closer to its vision.

Communicate all that you can to members of your organization. Information is critical to successfully empowering yourself and your staff. Seek the information you need and share it openly with your organization. Make the time to give your staff all the attention they need. Value them and believe in them. Your primary function as the leader of the organization is to support your people. They are the ones who actually make it happen.

Develop accountability in your people. "Accountability is the recognition and acceptance that one is answerable for whatever happens within a given area of activity, regardless of the cause." (PRYOR REPORT, Clemson, S.C.: Pryor Resources, Inc., January, 1993.) Expect your people to be accountable and give them the authority they need.

As an information manager, your primary responsibility is to support your people, and your people need to understand that their primary responsibility is to serve their customers. This includes a broad understanding that customers include those who need or use the end products of the IS department, as well as their colleagues within the function.

You and your staff need to take the time to think about what you are trying to accomplish. Take the strategic view. Develop leadership in yourself and your staff, value your people, recognize that each member's role is critical to the success of the overall organization, empower them and make them accountable. Share your knowledge. Celebrate the small victories. Put 110% of your abilities into everything you do.

Phase 4: Maintain and Develop Your Sphere of Influence

You need resources. If you have demonstrated the value of the IS organization, if you have made the difficult decisions necessary for the effective evaluation and restructuring of IS, if you have demonstrated creativity and have sought to do the right thing, if your organization is prepared, if you have communicated frequently and well, then your organization will likely receive the resources, support and recognition you need. You must develop judgment to know when to fight and when to back off, and you must clearly recognize the sphere of your influence. Identify the decisionmakers in your corporation and be sure that you are talking to them. Make sure your users know about the quality and breadth of your services, but be absolutely sure that the decisionmakers know your organization is costeffective and that they understand the value you bring. Pursue the areas where you can be successful and have the greatest impact, and communicate, communicate, communicate  up, down and sideways. It is not good enough to address the first three issues. It is not good enough to have answered the hard questions well. It is not good enough to have a crackerjack staff. Without communication your chance of success will be very limited.

Achieving Reality

So do your homework, understand your IS organization, make the needed changes, develop your own and your staff's leadership capabilities, empower your staff with knowledge and understanding, and communicate, communicate, communicate. Today your parent organization really needs you. The information function is critical to the success of corporations. It takes a great deal of energy and commitment, but the view is definitely worth the climb.


Rita Seelig Ayers is affiliated with DuPont Research & Development, E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., Inc., in Wilmington, Delaware.