"If we can get the Governor to do what he did
for the stadium we'd have a good chance of making things happen," Johnson
said. The Governor could appoint a commission to develop a vision. "Your
best bet is always leadership by the executive."
In the political system, executive leadership is
essential, Rollwagen added. "I found when I went to Washington that the
President has very little power to do anything on his own, but the
influence of the bully pulpit he enjoys can cause things to happen
regardless of the limitations of executive power." Reagan influenced
broadly; Clinton moved primarily issue-by-issue. To have real, effective
influence takes deep thinking on the part of the executive, and then very
engaged action such as that Lyndon Johnson typified.
The Legislature reflects the body politic, the
speakers agreed. Until a vision is adopted that reflects the body politic,
you won't get a Legislature to change. A participant asked about the
effect of political dynamics - such as we observe in the current
government - when a Governor declares a vision but the Legislature runs
counter to that vision. Isn't the Legislature always going to be
successful in undermining the Governor's vision in that case? A Governor
has to veto things, "play goalie", the speakers replied, but when
necessary he also has to go around the Legislature and take his case
directly to the people.
Johnson: Large and complex organizations must
have a guiding vision.
"As we talk about vision and planning," Johnson
said, "I would like to highlight what General Mills did, and how they did
When he left the Citizens League he described
having left his favorite job. Having never been interested in business, he
met with the General Mills executives because the company was a large
donor. When the company recruited him to assist with planning, "in a weak
moment", he accepted. "It surprised everybody."
Johnson recalled when he first arrived at
General Mills the organization was one of the leading food companies in
the world. That was their vision: To be the leading food company in the
Over his tenure they changed that vision and
became not just a leading food company but a retail business as well,
buying first a craft store, then a jewelry store, restaurants and other
enterprises - eventually acquiring 25 retail businesses in all. "We went
down to Florida, met a guy with four restaurants and bought them - that
became Red Lobster."
Their vision had changed to becoming the leading
retail company in the world. But having so many diversified companies
created a need for even closer attention to planning.
Every year Johnson would ask each company to
explain their vision to his team and provide their plan complete with
financials to achieve that vision. After discussions with Johnson's staff
the management would prepare for a meeting with corporate executives where
they would make their case for a share of the company's resources for the
After going through that process for all 25
companies the General Mills executives and staff went to work and
developed their own vision and plan for the corporation as a whole.
"It was fascinating to be a part of this because
everyone wanted to be bigger," Johnson said. "Everyone in the company
shared the vision to be the best in the world. We got there eventually;
there was a successful realization of that stated vision."
An organization must plan for resource use and
results, Johnson said, otherwise they get lost. This is particularly true
for any organization with highly diverse operations such as General Mills
would have as a private sector business or such as Minnesota would have as
a state government. The plans evolve and change, but the purpose of
planning is to keep track of all the different efforts, to track how those
efforts serve the vision, and how they can improve in order to better
serve the vision.
Private and public sector visioning and planning
are fundamentally different.
John Rollwagen has vast experience with
leadership in both the private and public sectors. In Minnesota he is well
known for having chaired the Citizens League committee that came up with
the recommendation for chartering schools.
"I want to impress upon this audience how
startlingly different the public and private systems are," he said.
The application of business methods to the
public sector is very difficult in a democratic society. In government the
process is essentially inclusive while in the private sector, work is
essentially voluntary - you choose to work for the company or you don't,
so if you don't buy in to the vision of your employer, you can quit. Or,
if you are hindering the realization of that vision, you can be made to
leave. In public it's not voluntary because we're all citizens and we are
all affected by our state's vision or lack thereof. In democratic
governments everyone is included at the table. The decision-making process
has to incorporate the panoply of interests.
Rollwagen described an early experience with the
chairman of the U. S. Senate Commerce Committee, Fritz Hollings, who had
the primary congressional oversight responsibility for the Commerce
Department. "Sometimes the decision making processes can be almost
surreal." Rollwagen said. "During the budgeting process, Senator Hollings
suggested that the overall Commerce Department budget could stand to be
reduced by about 10%, and I agreed. But then during the allocation
process, where the money is really spent, the senator thought it would be
a good idea to increase the actual funding for his Hollings Small Business
Centers located around the country by about 10%. And so it would go for
all the individual activities within the Commerce Department. Of course, I
agreed with all that too -- and it was just fine."
Visioning vs. Planning
The common element between both business and
government sectors is there must be a vision in order to be maximally
There's clearly a difference between a vision
and a plan. While it's important to have a long-term guiding vision, the
speakers said, it's also important to change that vision as circumstances
evolve. Planning needs to consider how to go about achieving the vision in
the future, and as both circumstances and the definition of the vision
change, planning then requires constant revision.
"I'd start with the question, What does it mean
to live in Minnesota? What's the state all about? What should it be about?
Why do I want to live here? We're together in this enterprise as
individuals, but we need to collectively achieve some mutually desirable
Leadership is key because a leader articulates a
message that inspires our thinking about why we want to be here, Johnson
added, about why an individual would want to carry this collective effort
Of course there are different leadership styles
that can achieve a similar end. "There was a huge difference between
Reagan and Clinton. I saw Clinton up close - he could articulate the Tea
Party argument better than Tea Partiers could, and appear to believe it.
Anyone could go in and talk with him and leave thinking, 'why, he shares
this belief with me.'"
"Ronald Reagan on the other hand said what he
believed and made no effort to empathize with your position. His approach
was: 'I'm President, this is what I believe.' End of discussion."
Determine a vision by assuming a position of
A vision is a conception of the future,
Rollwagen said - not a vision of where we are now. It's informed by
"It's a lot easier to see how a person or
company got to where it is once you're along and can look back. The same
goes for planning."
"The first step in planning is to decide where
we want to be ten years from now, then turn, look back, and look to the
present with hindsight. The reverse process, that is, standing where you
are and looking to the future for the steps to get there, doesn't work,
When asked how the planning processes of today
compare to those in the past, Johnson argued not much appears to have
changed. The best planning processes run on an annual calendar, with
five-year windows. "It is always important to have a set discipline to
gather your thoughts and look out each year."
Involve people to share ownership of a vision.
"When they had came to recruit me to General
Mills they had just brought in an expert planner to create a plan,"
Johnson said, "but the expert's planning efforts had not been successful."
One of the General Mills executives active with
the League suggested that with Johnson they would get a person who rather
than looking out over the enterprise to conjure a company-wide plan
instead gets others to plan from the bottom up.
"The critical thing is to get the involvement of
the key actors so they sign on. I never tried to do the planning myself; I
tried to develop a system that got planning to work for those operating
the businesses. You've got to get the people that make the decisions to do
That goes right down to the individual,
Rollwagen added. When he would talk about the vision of Cray Research he
said he would tell employees: "I'm asking you to ask yourself every day
what you've done to make the vision work. If what you've been doing does
not further progress toward the vision, then stop and find something to do
that does. Find it yourself - you won't be told what to do."
Rollwagen observed that both industries he has
been involved with - high tech and re-insurance - have had to do with
pressing the boundaries.
"There's an old story of Seymour Cray building a
sailboat and then each fall building a new one because the old was out of
date. And in the re-insurance business it's a constant re-evaluation of
risk. In both industries there are a lot of creative people that need
"The most important thing of all is guiding the
action." He likened a vision to the brass bar of a trolley car - it should
give people as much room as they need to reach out to see all the
possibilities while still staying safely on the trolley. Vision is about
enabling, not constraining.