SWIMNEWS ONLINE: August 1997 Magazine Articles

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How Clear Is Your Vision

When Everyone Sees The Same Picture And Commits To Achieving The Goal, Problems Turn Into Solutions


Neil Harvey

When was the last time your club had its vision checked? Can you see clearly, or do you need a new prescription? Swim clubs are complicated, and often the only things you see are the details of each season. Some clubs gradually become near-sighted without ever noticing the change. A number of problems can develop, the least of which is bumping into things. An earlier artcile looked at different club models, searching for some common traits for success. A strong core vision emerged as the most important one. This month's article looks at developing a club vision.

There are two parts to the process: Discover the important core values at your club, then describe your future goals as vividly as possible. You can then begin to navigate with two clear points of reference. The best clubs regularly look beyond the moment to the horizon. First, understand and trust your values, then set the course towards the clear vision you have described.

Many people have difficulty with the process of developing a vision; it is a soft skill, not usually associated with the No Fear mentality. But when asked for their core beliefs and a main goal, most people know them right away. Clubs need useful tools to figure out where they are, where they want to go, and how they will get there. Failure to evaluate your club properly will groove unwanted habits you may not know exist. You may end up somewhere you don't want to be.

To begin, you need to ask what your club stands for. What does your club hold as essential enduring principles? They will be the core values that will stand the test of time. Examples of core values are:

You cannot create or decide on core values; you discover them. Find those you truly and passionately hold. These ideas will guide and inspire your club, not make you different from other clubs. Ask your members, especially those with a long involvement, what they value by their membership. Ask questions like, for example: what are the core values you bring to the club?

What values would you want your children to hold when they become adults? Gradually a picture will appear. If the picture is a good one, talk about it, make sure everyone knows about it. It will attract people who fit the frame, not renovators with a better way. The key is not what core values your club has, but that it has some to begin with.

Ask why you exist as a swim club. Every club has different goals, facilities, staff, and local demographics, but at the bottom line, most swim clubs are in the kids-and-young adults business. You are not in the keep-the-parents-happy business, the babysitting business, or the coach-employment business.

Once you have a list of values, ask why you exist as a swim club. Every club has different goals, facilities, staff, and local demographics, but at the bottom line, most swim clubs are in the kids-and-young adults business. You are not in the keep-the-parents-happy business, the babysitting business, or the coach-employment business. Every kid should begin the sport eager and determined, and finish with pride and satisfaction. Of course, we will also wish for champions to rise up through the ranks, achieving success that reflects achievement on themselves and the club. But this cannot be the only reason to exist.

Your core club values must apply both to the champion and the trooper, the sponsor and the volunteer. If your list is not clear, or if conflicting versions exist, further work will be needed. After this exercise you will move forward on more solid footing.

Next, dream up your future. Go out eight to twelve years, making the dream vivid and real. For example, what would you want to read about your club in a feature article in 2010? The picture you arrive at should produce a bit of the "Gulp" factor: when it dawns on people what it will take to achieve the goal, there should be an almost audible gulp. It is the difference between a goal, and a major challenge. Like any goal, a Gulp is very clear and serves as a focal point, which will give a jump start your team spirit. It provides a clear finish line to shoot for. Your future must be tangible, energizing, highly focussed, and should grab everyone in the club.

For some clubs, the dream of building a 50-metre pool clearly qualifies as a Gulp idea. Another dream might be to put a club relay on the Olympic team or win the provincial championships five times in a row. These are huge compelling goals, easily understood by everyone. Some goals are internal: be the club best able to keep kids swimming longest at the highest level. These goals cannot be achieved tomorrow or even next year. Looking far into the future requires thinking beyond the current capabilities of the organization and the current environment. The description of the big goal must have passion, emotion, and conviction. The future must seem real right now. Understand also, whenever you cross a finish line, another Gulp goal must be waiting.

The vision need not be correct, for you have no way of knowing the future. But does it get your juices flowing now? Is it stimulating? The goal should be so exciting the people who set the goal may not be needed to finish the job! Short-range action comes out of this excitement and focus. The right kind of people will be drawn into the mix; the right kind of action will come out of every member of the club. Building the strength of the club and the people in it, is the primary way of creating the future. Don't worry about the wording of any statements; too much precision will confuse and set your feet in the concrete of the words.

Try for a vision that has its own momentum: preserve the core and stimulate progress. Every step you take, from hiring the right coach to always going the extra mile, will align with your vision. When everyone sees the same picture and commits to achieving the goal, problems turn into solutions. Working with vision in mind requires optimism, not an optometrist. Getting your club pointed in the right direction and excited about the trip is sometimes all the vision you need.

(Adapted from Collins and Porras, Harvard Business Review, Sept '96 Vol. 74 No. 5)