Takeaways: Desired State and Vision are two powerful tools for helping to build cohesive teams. The subtle differences can be used effectively depending on the situation.
The other day I was coaching a friend about what can be done in the shortest amount of time to help her build a cohesive board. I suggested that having everyone agree on the future Desired state would help to build unity. It’s a small non-profit that funds the un-sexy need of school bus transportation so children can experience music, dance, art and science as part of their education.
Many board members are new to being on a board. The organization is not well-funded, everyone volunteers their time and skills, and most of the funds raised go to funding the bus transportation. There are no clearly defined roles and everyone just pitches in to do things. This has created ineffective communication, duplication of efforts, and finger pointing, with everyone turning to my friend to solve the problems and answer all questions.
I suggested to her that two of the most important things they could do were to get agreement on what and how the organization wants to BE a year down the road, their Desired State, and to clarify roles. Clarifying roles she understood. But she wasn’t clear about what I meant by Desired State. I explained that it’s similar to a Vision. That she understood.
That got me thinking about the distinction between the two. It’s subtle, but very powerful. This has become clearer after proofing my friend Timi Gleason’s re-write of her book, Coach as Strategic Partner. In it she describes effortlessly what a desired state is, and how to turn tactical conversations into strategic ones when they get mired down in details (Look for it soon under a new title.)
Desired State is a future state of BE-ing vs. DO-ing according to Timi. When you describe a Desired State you talk about it as though it’s already happened. You’ve already accomplished this. You incorporate all five senses –sight, feelings, sound, touch, and taste – to describe what it’s like to stand in that future situation.
Vision is a powerful magnet that draws you forward. It’s a possible Desired State to which you aspire. It sits in the future as something you are working towards. It’s the carrot held in front of your nose to keep you moving forward towards the goal.
With a Desired State, you see yourself already there. Once you write it down, you put it aside and let your subconscious actions start working to help you achieve that. You don’t need to think about it because it’s already done. You’re there. You act as though you’ve already accomplished that state. Team members begin to work more collaboratively from the perspective, ”If we’ve already accomplished this Desired State, then for this to be reality, Sales needs to be meeting regularly with Marketing, and Marketing needs to give IT sufficient lead time to prepare the technology, etc.” And it all just begins to happen – like magic.
With a Vision, you hold that before you always as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that you are striving to get to. All your strategies and actions are held up against that Vision as a measuring stick. “Will this event, activity or effort help us get to that pot of gold? If not, we don’t do it.”
The team is still firmly planted in today but each member keeps that vision of the pot of gold as a beacon to work toward. Conversations are easier with less finger pointing because everyone has agreed on the path to the pot of gold. There is no blame when the only question to ask is “how will that effort help us reach the pot of gold?”
Both are powerful tools for helping to build cohesive teams. Depending on the issues at hand and the personalities involved, sometimes using a Vision is more effective than using a Desired State. An organization may actually use both. The Vision may be the over-arching goal of the organization – the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The Desired State is different for each department and even for each issue or challenge being faced, AND it also supports the overall Vision of the organization.
In fact, as Timi so eloquently describes in her book, every situation can be addressed by asking what’s the Desired State? That turns any conversation from a tactical one into a strategic one.
What are your thoughts on the distinction between Desired State and Vision?