Your people want to know where you are taking them. Without vision, leaders unintentionally create a feeling of dissatisfaction in their team because those leaders aren’t painting a picture of an even-better future that the team wants to get to together.
First of all, you have to have a vision! Having a long-range snapshot of the future is critical to leadership and entrepreneurship because it establishes a True North. In fact, being visionary may just be the main trait that distinguishes leaders (eyes on the horizon) from followers (eyes on the tasks). Visions keep you less distracted than your competition, and having a compelling vision keeps you from majoring on the minor things.
Craft the Vision.
- Determine where you are now, and why you cannot corporately stay there. “Reality without vision destroys possibility: vision without reality destroys credibility,” says Robert Quinn, who is trying to remind leaders to clearly define the You are Here place on your company’s map first, then to imagine the places you’ll go (Dr. Seuss reference).
The same type of thinking that got you here will not keep your business growing. There must be an urgency that induces every team member to take action and not just stay here and coast.
- Dream about where you want to take your organization. “All successful people are big dreamers,” says Brian Tracy. “They imagine what their future could be, ideal in every respect, and then work every day toward their distant vision, that goal or purpose.” What is the fire in your belly? Visions stick to you; you can’t shake them off. You wake up thinking about what you’d like to see your business become, and you find yourself talking about it all the time.
Escape to a beautiful setting in nature and carve out a half or full day to “Blue-sky the Golden Tomorrow”. This is the end result you want your team and company to get to, if money and other resources were not an obstacle.
- Build relationships with and then listen to your constituency.
- hanging out with people,
- having lunch with them,
- working alongside them in their role for a bit,
- Managing by Wandering Around (MBWA),
- Being fully present in conversations,
- Being a noticer.
The people who truly shape us are the ones who do life with us.
Find the common aspirations of your constituents—this is the pre-work to buy-in of the vision. It’s not just your vision; it must be a shared vision. It’s like putting your binoculars in front of every team member and showing them what you are seeing out there.
In one-on-one’s, ask staff why they stay working for you, and ask customers why they continue to purchase from you. Ask your team for “feed-forward” (instead of Feedback): Things we should stop doing, start doing, and continue doing well. Look for patterns that emerge. A great idea is nothing more than 3 or 4 good ideas put together. And you get 3-4 good ideas by listening.
- Think bigger. A vision is outside of your current comfort zone but inside of a delusional zone. So, you have to become more comfortable with the unfamiliar and the unknown—living in the gray zone. Start thinking about what a BHAG might be: a Big Hairy Audacious Goal, which could be taking your current metrics and multiplying them by a factor of 2, 5, or even 10!
Then, once you have the ideas of everyone… 5. Draft a collective vision statement. It is putting into words (broadly) what your team and business will look like if they are fulfilling your mission. It has to be clear and it has to be compelling, which means “evoking interest, attention, or admiration in a powerfully irresistible way.” Don’t waste time casting visions that are insignificant. No vanilla visions!
Cast the vision.
John Kotter says: “The top 5% of leaders who actually made something terrific happen were very good at communicating in a way that won people over.” Visions must be communicable—successfully articulated in 5 minutes, with an elevator speech of 30 seconds capturing the gist of it. Practice telling a clear, compelling “elevator speech” within your team, that can be told in less than a minute. Then use it in the community, too.
- Win over your core team first before casting it to the whole group. These are the change champions who will continue to “sell” the vision when you are not around.
- Be deliberate in choosing the forums to cast it. Howard Schultz shut down Starbucks for 3 hours and called a all-hands-on-deck meeting in order to re-cast the vision, so that every employee would be on the same page.
- Breathe life into it. When you share your vision with the team, get them to imagine what the future will look/feel/sound/smell like. “Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today,” says Robert McAfee Brown. You are seeking total engagement from the team because everyone will be sacrificing the status quo to get to this new destination.
- Double-check to see if they picked up what you were laying down. You cast it, and maybe they don’t “got” it! Effective communication is two-way. Have your team write down in their own words what they thought they heard you say.
- Never stop communicating the vision! Vision leaks. Read this quote very slowly: “Every 21 days, your people forget the vision.” –George Barna Whoa! That means that every day, someone on your team is on day 22 and wondering if they should stay employed by you! Re-state the vision from various directions, using different voices, different techniques, different media, across all department meetings and communiques. Don’t let it become another binder on a shelf.
Human nature has shown that people will gravitate back to their old habits and think that this new initiative will go away in time. Beware: Time and multiple messages (squirrel!) dilute vision.
Carry the Vision.
Not only do you have to see what others do not, but you have to have the strength and wisdom to shepherd your vision into reality—to keep the organization focused on it.
- Put vision implementation as detailed tasks for your team, with timelines. “You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do,” reminds Henry Ford. Along with this point, make sure you and your team have the resources to do it. By making the vision into clear tasks, you are better assuring that nothing falls through the cracks.
- Integrate the vision into every process and program. Commitment to the vision trumps everything! Seriously! Vision gives focus to human energy. In fact, if it doesn’t go along with the vision, a great question is, Why are we still doing it? It’s not tacked on to other duties; it IS what we are doing!
- Require certain behaviors from every team member. Jeff Haden: “Every great leader helps all employees feel their job plays an important role in something bigger and more meaningful.” The vision becomes meaningful when each employee recognizes their part in the greater vision. Give feedback in one-to-ones. Rope in those who are headed in wrong directions—those who are exhibiting “sideways energy” (not on track). With those team members, and every team member, ask what their current activities are that cannot be justified as pushing toward the vision?
- Share the stories along the journey. Make times for the team to share the short-term win stories. This adds coals to the fire as you kindle the vision flame. Reward results. Again, at this stage, be accessible and interested more than ever and listen to your constituency. Pay attention to what is going on at the edge of your vision, as the next match to ignite.
- Evaluate results of your goals and make adjustments. Vision should be flexible—in light of changing conditions. Nothing changes without evaluation. Have a dashboard that gets discussed in staff meetings that marks each goal as tracking green (on target), yellow (stalled), or red (not happening) under the vision. All the details of the vision were not able to be seen at the front end; so, it makes sense that there will be bumps in the road when it comes to implementation.
Effective leaders are “tomorrow people” who are relentlessly reaching for a compelling future of their business, and they are constantly connecting the vision and strategy to what employees are doing on the front lines.
I go deeper on all these main points above in my brand-new book: Leading with Super-Vision, just released last month. Order it today!