In the early days of work, the boss was the one who knew how to do the work better than any the worker and workers only worked as hard as they were forced.
Command and control has served society for a long time, since the early days of society, where the Lord protected the farmer in exchange for taxes of food and labor. It experienced resurgence in the Industrial Age, especially with the assembly line, where a worker’s contribution to the overall product was small, often insignificant. As one ascended the workplace structure, one received a broader view of the overall work and where one’s contribution fit into the overall product. Because of distrust, spurred by labor- management disagreements, much of the work was limited in scope to limit the influence any one worker held over the company’s success.
Fast forward to today, where global access to information is a mouse-click away and global business information is available with similar ease from ERP systems. With a similar breakdown of work into small blocks, the integration of information is wasted in order to control work in manageable blocks, the size that a manager can be held to account for. This structure holds businesses back in the Industrial Age of work, instead of moving forward combining the speed of technology available today with the trust in the capability of people to produce work in their interest.
As any change, the timing moves in surges, and the latest surge is coming on the heels of the economic downturn. Of the people moving to new jobs in mid-2010, after sitting firm through 2009, nearly two-thirds stated they would not stay at their current employer, even for an increase in pay. Specific reasons included excessive work or time expectations, little respect, lack of trust, no allowance for personality in work, no recognition. The economy has held the baby-boomers in the wage generation for a few years longer, albeit with a different attitude: boost retirement savings to recover the retirement date lost to the market loss.
Nature can be both nourishing and destroying; sometimes with the same aspect; for example, water falling as rain. Rain is essential for crops to grow and reservoirs to be filled; and it can destroy with monsoons or torrential rains that flood or wash away soil and vegetation, or the streets and buildings of man. The nourishing side speaks to the growth and health of nature, while the destroying aspect demonstrated the raw power contained in what seems like an innocuous material.
All of the rain that falls has a journey, used by plants or animals immediately, percolating into the ground and filling aquifers, or collecting on the surface and running to the sea. Our discussion of water in nature flows from water to rain to rivers.
A river starts by the collection of groundwater into a singular place, the headwaters, that feed the continuing flow of the river to the sea.
The sea is the ultimate destination of every river, although some take a short stop at large lake in their journey. The sea is real; a tangible place that is achievable.
A river is constrained by its banks and is constantly testing those limits. The energy to change the banks is greatest where flow conditions wish to straighten out the meandering of the early river.
A river is inclusive, for all that gets wet may be carried along on the journey, its individual pace in proportion to its weight.
A river also eats away at the bottom, the riverbed, always carrying a part of it a little further downstream.
A river is water – a flexible yet persistent material that wears things away by sheer continuous repetition. It often carries small bits of the river’s banks or bed downstream, wearing away the hardest rock.
A river is powerful. Water always seeks the lowest point, and is relentless in its efforts to reach that lowest point. Therefore, the river is always flowing to the sea. The force needed to counteract & constrain a river is immense, e.g., the size of the Hoover Dam!
A river seems to have a life, an energy that it possesses as it constantly moves with powerful force. Listen as it flows past and its quiet, but at the rapid section or in area where it narrows, the power can be seen and even heard: a surging sound of powerful movement, pulling or pushing anything in its way.
The mission statement is like a river, a river running through a business, project, or group.
The vision (or purpose) statement contains the source of energy for the mission, just like the headwaters of a river. The emotional energy generated by the visualization of the desired future state where all of the goals and intents are realized.
The sea (ocean) is the end state of a river; the vision is a description of that future state, which the mission is the path to reach.
The core values or principles that the team or organization commits to abide by in their work and interactions create the boundaries that constrain the behavior of people working to achieve the mission. Also, as a river’s banks may shift slowly over time, to follow a more direct path to the sea, so too many the core values shift – slowly and with purpose. As the entire river now moves within those new banks, the people of an organization behave in alignment with the new boundaries.
A mission statement is powerful, almost living source of energy when it is understood and owned by all who are working to achieve it. When people are emotionally enrolled and engaged with the mission, their energy is as forceful as a river; and they will find a way to achieve success.
The power of a strong engaged mission statement has a physical presence, one that can be felt in both the quiet moments and in times of great activity. There is a surge of energy towards completion and success that wells up and involves all within its reach, driving them to give what is necessary to achieve mutual success. And that success is shared. It is not for a single person, but for the whole of the group involved.
As a river is formed from the contribution of many raindrops, a successful mission is comprised of the contribution of many people who aligned their world with it.
The power of a flowing river to align energy and to move in a singular direction is another metaphor in nature that describes a business process/system very well. Perhaps further discussion may include learning from the natural adaptive systems that exist around a river and how those adaptations model healthy behavior around a business’s mission and purpose.