Verify your vision

Photo by Don HarderA lot of people I know—sooner or later—want to introduce some fairly significant change in their team or organisation. It’s certainly something I’ve sought to do many times. One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned about this is… verify your vision. In other words, your vision may be a good one, but unless you listen to people’s concerns then success is going to be very, very difficult.

Soon after I started at the Guardian I wanted to move the team over to Java. Until then the team had been using a very cumbersome language (TCL) with some very troublesome proprietary tools. I thought Java would allow us to develop more quickly and reliably, and maybe I was right. But when I raised it with the team I got a very negative response. It wasn’t that it was a bad thing to do, they said, but if we were going to tackle some big technology issues then there were more pressing ones. There was general consensus as to what those were, and so I shelved my vision while we dealt with those issues. The team did an amazing job, and we moved our platform forward significantly. And then we were in a much better place to move to a more modern programming language and environment.

Even if your vision is the right one for the organisations it’s vital to verify it. When you talk to people you will hear concerns which you can address explicitly; you will learn key phrases that carry weight or baggage, and that will allow you to adjust your language accordingly; you will learn which issues are more or less important for people, and be able to adjust your message and plan accordingly; you will hear stories that you can use to make your vision more compelling. And most importantly, you will demonstrate that you really do listen to people—because you do.

Executing the vision is not something anyone can do alone. Getting it right, and bringing people along, is essential.

Photo by Don Harder