Thursday, June 12, 2014

Visualize Your Purpose

Guest post from Jurgen Appelo:

When the young Zhang Ruimin in China was appointed as managing director of the Haier refrigerator factory in 1984, it didn’t look like the kind of job anyone else would envy. The company was in serious debt. It produced a mere eighty refrigerators per month, and the quality of those was very poor. Then, on a good day in 1985, a customer came in and brought his broken refrigerator with him.
As Mr. Zhang and the client went through the machines in stock, looking for a replacement, they discovered that a staggering one-fifth of the machines had failures. Mr. Zhang, a fervent reader of modern management techniques, decided to make a point by showing his employees how important he thought quality was. He lined up the broken refrigerators (each of which was very expensive in those days) and handed out sledgehammers to the workers. He said, “Destroy them! If we pass these 76 refrigerators for sale, we’ll be continuing a mistake that has all but bankrupted our company.” [Jinsheng Yi and Xian Ye, The Haier Way pag:23]

Thirty years later, the story is still known all over China. With a market share of close to eight percent, Haier became the biggest producer of major household appliances in the world in 2011. At the time of writing this article, Mr. Zhang still leads the company. And he is still on the lookout for new and better ways of management. I feel proud and honored that he wrote the foreword for the Chinese translation of my first book, Management 3.0.

What Would You Put on Display?

People love expositions, exhibits, and museums.  Expositions about art, expositions about history, expositions about science, expositions about architecture, expositions about technology, expositions about biology (we call them zoos), expositions about photography, and (probably) expositions about expositions. If you are on vacation in Amsterdam, you can even go to an exposition about sexuality. And if you’re on a business trip in China, you can go to an exposition about the company that invited you, like I did when I was invited by Haier. Expositions and museums are popular because they tell stories with pictures or objects. They inspire people by showing both the beautiful and the terrible things that have shaped humanity into what it is now. Some things we hope to create more of in the future, while other things we hope to never witness again.

What would you have on display if your team had an exposition? Which photos, videos, sounds, screenshots, or texts would you show to your guests? Which emails, trophies, badges, or gifts did you get in the past that could serve as an example of what you want in the future? Which products, phone calls, or objects will serve as a reminder of things that should never happen again? Research suggests that adding a visual element to your goal-setting efforts brings you stronger results. [Dowden, “A Picture is Worth 1000 Words”] And artifacts can contribute to the communication of shared values and purpose. [Robin and Burchell, No Excuses loc:586] So, which stories can you showcase with artifacts to emphasize your goals?

When you are able to create a nice exposition about the work in your team, department, or organization, it is likely that you have found and visualized your purpose.

Jurgen Appelo is Europe’s most popular leadership author, listed on’s Top 50 Management Experts. His latest book Management 3.0 Workout, full of concrete games, tools, and practices, is available for free. Download it here: 

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