A vision for the cluster


Introduction

 

A Vision is a clear and succinct description of what the cluster should look like after it successfully implements its strategies and achieves its full potential. It is an expression of the cluster company –more specifically, at formation stage, by the CMs involved in the initiative – about what they want the cluster to be, i.e. a preferred future the cluster chooses to create. Following Collins and Porras (1996), a lasting vision is built upon two main components: a core ideology (made up of core values and core purpose) and an envisioned future.

WHY a vision for the cluster —Building clusters from the bottom up and engaging in collaborative networks assumes the concurrence of manifold capabilities and IC factors that are rarely promptly found in SMEs, of which learning, relational and, communication and cooperation skills are salient. This means that to enact collaboration and IC cross-fertilisation (flows) between the cluster partners, the SME culture will necessarily be challenged. On the other hand, such a changeover assumes that mindsets and cognitions of the individuals involved in the partnership will have to undergo a process of de-construction first to then be re-constructed under a different paradigm. 

To make the individual partner behave differently –more prone to collaboration – and creating the catalytic mechanisms to support that change has been one big concern of the cluster initiation stage. The process of translation of the company goals and learned beliefs (individual and company dimension) to a collective intelligence (cluster dimension) and, vice versa, the internalization of the cluster mindset by the individual company is winding and complex but at the same time unavoidable (Martins and Solé, 2012).

In this regard, building a vision for the cluster might help the partner company to make the transition from the company to the cluster view, and the individual member to realize that he is a contributor to both. Therefore, creating this referral is key for crafting the cluster identity while developing in the cluster partner sense of community, and defining a vision the pathway to it. This is also of application to already functioning clusters. Even to those created top-down the vision has a keystone role, contributing to the strengthening of its values and reaffirmation of its identity, while pushing the cluster to the forefront of innovation –embodied in innovative and value-added services to the cluster companies– and supporting its permanent search for new opportunities.   

The various interests represented by the cluster partners necessitate creating and articulating a common vision. That vision statement will form the foundation from which all other strategic elements emanate. The vision statement should express the philosophy (values and beliefs), as well as purpose, of the collaboration, to which all partners agree.   

At start up, the SME cluster is essentially a group of companies –in fact, individuals – that initially have accepted the clustering challenge put through by the catalyst CM but not yet really foreseen the benefits it could bring about to the specific company or its feasibility. To enhance the collective capacity of the individual company seems crucial to allow people to create and pursue the cluster overall vision and start thriving. How the SME integrates the different views and ideologies into its own vision and strategic processes will determine too the distinctiveness and efficacy of the initiative. Likewise, because agility matters especially at start up, how the cluster deals with this phenomenon of distributed cognition will bind its possibilities of survival. 

A shared vision brings focus to the team. A lack of focus allows for conflicting agendas. As the cluster initiative progresses, collaboration partners should reassess and modify the vision statement if, for instance, the cluster’s environment or the collaboration membership changes significantly –e.g. the cluster is enlarged or a core member quits. However, because the vision is the foundation for the cluster guiding and evaluating collaboration in the mid-to-long term, modifying it should not be considered lightly.

Visioning is therefore an important process in order to give all involved focus. Creating an effective vision becomes the means through which change can be implemented, both at the cluster and company level. Ultimately, we could say it creates readiness for change –readiness is described here in terms of the organizational members' beliefs, attitudes, and intentions. [Note: The Fitness Check for CADIC Candidates is also aimed at addressing these issues]

The vision should be a robust view of the future state of the cluster. It should be based on the dynamic changes in the key forces of the industry and not be merely an extension of the cluster companies vision. A view of the future environment will help the cluster (and the cluster companies) evaluate existing capabilities and provide an understanding of where the potential cluster could serve to meet the strategy.

The conditions just discussed are precursors, but they are not determinative. Such a break with the past also requires individual leaders who envision benefits from working together and who are willing and able to absorb the significant political risks and overcome ideologic resistance to initiating a joint program with their labor or management counterparts. A shared vision, or at least compatible visions, among top leaders and within the dominant coalitions of both organizations is thus critical.


Defining a vision for the cluster


Following Collins and Porras (1996), we understand the Vision as made up of a core ideology and an envisioned future, the methodology below aims at enabling the cluster partners to build a shared understanding of their common purpose, as well as to generate a clear image of the future success they are striving to collectively achieve.

Values are the bedrock of all company cultures. Paying attention to values, discussing them, internalising them can build teams and prevent unnecessary conflict. The same applies to clusters.

Defining a vision for the cluster should enable the cluster partners to: 1) arrive to a sound and plausible definition of the SME’s vision; i.e. develop a clear and shared idea of where the SME would like to be in the mid/long term, 2) raise awareness about the potential the vision has to introduce the organisation into the future, and 3) its role as a benchmark or threshold upon which the cluster might assess and adjust its strategy and capabilities in the long term.  Against it the cluster will be able to screen and evaluate potential targets.

As the CADIC pilot experience suggests, it may prove beneficial for the cluster to define a vision before going to the cluster strategies formulation (stage 2 of the CMC), rather early at the formation stage. The vision not only projects the cluster partners forward as a collective group but its process of definition allows the activation of a common language, which is a requisite and one important pillar of communication, relationships and IC flows.     

Given the above, it is important that the CFT fosters the discussion between the cluster partners and creates an environment prone to it and trust building.

The vision statement (and values) sets the identity of the cluster. And, in this respect it should make part of the communication strategy of the cluster, both internally and externally.


For further information see:


The CADIC Communication Guideline

Workshop Methodology




References


Collins, J.C. and Porras, J.I. (1996), “Building your company’s vision”, Harvard Business Review, Sep.-Oct., pp.65-77 --- > This paper Is also mentioned under

Martins, B. and Solé, F. (2012), “Roles-purpose-and-culture misalignments: A setback to bottom-up SME clusters”, IFKAD-KCWS 2012, Matera, Italy, Jun.12-14