I recently visited my old neighbourhood for the first time in about 20 years; though it has been more than 40 years since I lived there.
The neighbourhood was built around 1960, the beginning of the suburban expansion. Long straight roads were replaced with crescents, cul-de-sacs and streets with random corners and T intersections. Schools were strategically planned into these neighbourhoods, as were green spaces and parks. Forty years ago, it was a great place to grow up and, on my recent visit, I discovered it still is. I saw mothers out walking their kids in strollers. There were kids playing in the park, and all of the houses were well maintained.
I visited my old high school next. When I first started going there, it was an eight- or 10-classroom building. Since that time, they’ve made many more expansions and the building is now probably three times the size it was when I finished there. But what really caught my attention was the sports field behind the school. The school was built on a sloping property, and there was no sports field when I began grade nine there. The student council of that day decided that a new sports field would be a worthy objective for us to achieve. As a student body, we were successful at raising the necessary funds and, with the support of staff, we hired contractors to reshape the property and make a level sports field. The student body worked together, the community at large was engaged, and a new sports field was built. Four decades later, the field still looks great, although now it likely serves a student body four or five times larger.
I was thinking about these things on my way home. What makes a neighbourhood great? What makes a school great? And what makes them remain great 40 years later? The same questions apply to the companies we build. As I pondered it some more, I started sorting through the ingredients needed for success — planning, preparation, hard work, commitment, desire, common objectives, team work, opportunity, good people, good leaders, motivation. All of these things are needed to achieve something really significant, but none of these things assure continued long-term success. Building something to last requires two things more than anything else — vision and values.
The planners that designed my old neighbourhood had a vision of what families needed to function and grow, not just in their day, but even 40 years later. The initial homeowners bought into the values of that vision, and whenever a community lives out its values through its actions and decisions, it attracts others with similar values. The same is true for the high school I went to, as well as any company.
Vision and values are the cornerstones of anything built to last, and decisions and actions need to continually reflect them. I think that’s how successful organizations stand the ultimate test of time.
This column originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.