We hear a lot about the importance of a compelling vision. Every company I’ve ever worked for had a “vision statement.” Most times this is some laminated paragraph that exudes motherhood and apple pie. World class this, customer service that, yada yada…you get the idea.
There are a number of components to a great vision. First of all it needs to be aspirational. It has to be grand enough to inspire the kind of commitment of energy and the discomfort of change required for human beings to evolve from their current state to a higher level of effectiveness. However, most companies make a few critical mistakes in developing their visions.
The first mistake is what I refer to as the Mel Brooks School of vision. If you remember his movie “History of the World” there is a scene where Moses comes down from the mountaintop with three tablets and tells the people these are your fifteen (oops…he drops a tablet!)…ten commandments! Most companies take this approach as the senior leaders “unveil” the vision and then wonder why their staff isn’t turning cartwheels with excitement. It’s simply because the people have not had the opportunity to participate in the development or creation of the vision. Therefore they don’t share a sense of ownership or accountability for the vision and instead see this as “management’s vision” not ours.
People need to see themselves in the vision. I recall during my tenure at a Fortune 100 company going through what was called our “Transformation Effort” (we actually received butterfly t-shirts!) The problem with this effort was that it was driven from the top down and most of the staff didn’t feel they had a voice or were a part of contributing to this initiative. They viewed the outcome as “management’s vision” versus their own vision.
They also need to be able to connect the dots between what they do every day and how it impacts the vision. This reminds me of the old story of a man who is passing a construction site. He asks the first laborer what he is doing, to which the man responds “I’m laying brick making $25 an hour”. He passes the second laborer asking him the same question. However this man states “I’m building the most beautiful cathedral in the world!” This is the importance and the power of people having a personal stake in the vision and understanding how their contributions enable the vision to be achieved and come to life.
The bottom line is that people need to feel a sense of ownership and accountability for making the vision come to life. They have to understand on a very personal level the value to them of accomplishing the vision (psychic rewards, career promotions, personal recognition, professional development, etc.) as well as the potential downside of not accomplishing the vision (being acquired, going bankrupt, being outsourced, etc.).
The only way a leader accomplishes a great vision is through the efforts of a great team that is motivated, driven and relentless in pursuing this goal. Success is a team sport and great things can only be accomplished by great teams.
Larry Bonfante is an Allied Partner with Snodgrass Partners. He is the founder of CIO Bench Coach, an executive coaching practice for Information Technology (IT) executives.