Chief: Cast a Bold, Breathtaking Vision

casting-visionJohn Kotter, a leading business consultant on organizational change identifies eight major errors as to why transformation in an organization fails. They are worth remembering as police in America are faced with making some big, transformational changes if they are to restore the trust that is so necessary to have been police and citizens in a democracy such as ours. I would to focus today on the third error: Lacking a Vision.

But first let’s take a look at the other seven:

1. Not establishing a great enough sense of urgency.
2. Not creating a powerful enough guiding coalition.
3. LACKING A VISION.
4. Under-communicating the vision by a factor of ten.
5. Not removing obstacles to the new vision.
6. Not systematically planning for, and creating, short-term wins.
7. Declaring victory too soon.
8. Not anchoring changes in the [organization’s] culture.

These eight errors are very consistent with my experience in leading organizational transformation. (It’s always good when one’s experience dovetails with research!)

Kotter says this about step three — vision — and the topic of today’s post.

“Without a sensible vision, a transformation effort can easily dissolve into a list of confusing and incompatible projects that can take the organization in the wrong direction or nowhere at all. Without a sound vision [any new project or program] will not add up in a meaningful way. In failed transformations, you often find plenty of plans, directives and programs but no vision…

“In a few of the less successful cases that I have seen, management had a sense of direction, but it was too complicated or blurry to be useful… A useful rule of thumb: If you can’t communicate the vision to someone in five minutes or less and get a reaction that signifies both understanding and interest, you are not yet done with this phase of the transformation process.”


[From “Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail,” John Kotter in HBR’s 10 Must Reads On Change Management. Harvard Business School Publishing Corp., 2011.]


In Arrested Development, I also tackle the importance of vision-casting. For me, it was the first step in the transformational process. Although I would concede that Kotter’s list which included creating a sense of urgency and having a powerful coalition go before casting the actual vision.


Step One: Envision: Police leaders must cast a bold and breathtaking vision to ensure a distinguished future for policing.

A GOOD VISION statement should be short, bold (even
breathtaking), and those hearing it for the first time should be able to clearly remember it the next day.

One quickly learns, however, that this is the easiest step. In order for a vision to work, it must be shared with others whom it affects. But having something shared with you is much different than having your vision become theirs.

druckerFor leaders to have their visions become owned by others takes time and commitment. They must also have passion and persistence. Peter Drucker, one of our nation’s most influential thinkers on the subject of management theory, once described these kind of leaders as monomaniacs with a mission.

Like most chiefs new to a department, I came with a vision that was, at first, a set of expectations as to how I wanted the men and women of my department to conduct the business of policing. These expectations came about through my own learning and experience—the things I thought important.

From day one as a chief, I began to describe my expectations for the department at every opportunity. I was in the business of selling organizational change.

I found that one of the top opportunities to do this was at the graduation of a class of new police officers. This was always a big event in Madison. I wanted my new officers to know who I was and what my expectations were—but most of all, how passionate I was about
them.

“Employ your full skill at all times and to all persons.
Prevent, manage, or intervene in situations requiring
police service.

“Be open, accept change in this changing world, develop and maintain a broad perspective of your function and the society in which you work, be flexible and develop the ability to grow with the people you serve.”
[Police Recruit Graduation, 1974.]

But before my expectations became the driving vision for the Madison department, there was a lot of work that first needed to be done…

First, police leaders are needed who are not only monomaniacs with a mission, but who are willing to stay around long enough and to suffer through the pain that inevitably comes with an organization in the process of change.

Second, there needs to be constant and on-going support by the community including elected officials—those outside the organization—to help make the vision a reality. Leaders must cast their vision outside the department as much as they do inside of it.

Third, those within the organization must know their leader is willing to engage in a process with them to develop the vision. They, too, must be willing to participate in the work to make the vision become a reality and do all that they can to operate under its direction…


Looking back, I think I would have cast a vision statement that was even stronger and bolder: “We will become the best police department in America.” Deep-down, that is what I was after. We, in the Madison would lead and become the best police department in our nation. We would share what we learned and how we did it with others.

  • What’s your organization’s bold and breathtaking vision?