The secret sauce for vision achievement
You’ve developed a compelling direction for your group. Now what?
If you are going to truly achieve organizational transformation, what is missing at this point is buy-in. In other words buy-in is the creation of an alignment between the future direction and the wants, needs and desires of the followers. Alignment is the process of ensuring that employees understand what the vision means, understand what it means for them, and feel powerful enough that they can take action to achieve the vision.
This is not necessarily an easy task. Many leaders that I have worked with stumble at this point because they are unfamiliar with what it takes to get employee support.
Some leaders have proudly described the new direction as a fait accompli. They think that the direction in and of itself will be so exciting to their employees that they will leave committed to achieve it. I call this “author’s hubris.”
Others announce the vision and ask for input. If challenged, it is natural for the leader if they get push back to get defensive or double down on his/her justification for why the vision is written the way that it is. This inevitably leads to passive acceptance (compliance) rather than whole-hearted support.
Others engage their staff in development of the vision. This is higher-order leadership and yields the best results, however it is difficult to finesse the conversation without outside (objective) facilitation. If you do undertake this method then it is wise to come in with a list of criteria that describes the business challenges that compelled you to create the vision in the first place.
Regardless of the approach that you use, here’s how you can go about gaining alignment behind the vision.
Tell the story and make it real for them: Describe where your organization has been, what has created the current situation and what is compelling about the preferred future direction. Use metaphors that relate your organization’s challenge to those your staff faces in their lives both in and out of the workplace.. The best example of masterfully describing a vision that relates to the audience is Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream” speech.
A picture speaks a thousand words: No artistry needed. No need for storyboards or fancy videos. Charts and other compelling pictures that explain the past, present and future is all that is needed. Use your imagination but always keep in mind the wants and desires of your staff.
Wash, rinse, repeat: It is very important that your staff hear this message over and over again. Don’t use the same words each time but do repeatedly reinforce the key points behind the vision. Do this 1:1 as you casually encounter employees. Do not make it the theme of every team meeting, just some of them.
Regardless of your presentation approach be sure that what you say includes words and statements that reinforce these four aspects of psychological capital. Building people’s psychological capital has shown to positively impact the release of discretionary effort.
Expressing conviction that the vision can be achieved and that the staff and management have the abilities to achieve the vision. This does not mean that the vision is guaranteed (unrealistic confidence), just that you believe that the staff has the requisite skills, attitude and motivation to succeed.
Explaining and demonstrating that a pathway exists to achieve the vision. The pathways could range from having developed a clear cut strategy and set of actions that support vision achievement. Or it could be described as ways senior management will support the department. It could even include the expectations that better business results and by extension job security and work fulfillment will result from taking action towards vision accomplishment.
Mentioning positive descriptors about the department and staff that are bother pervasive and permanent. A pervasive attribution would be: “We are the best environmental group at obtaining permits.” or “We are clever at knowing when a project has potential environmental consequences.” A permanent attribution might be: “We have the talent and knowledge to help our clients make the best decisions about project implementation.”
It’s important for the leader to describe an honest assessment of how the department is currently functioning and the results obtained. In addition this is the time for the leader to personally express his/her beliefs that there will be a positive, meaningful outcome for the company, department and staff no matter what challenges might be faced. Thirdly, that it is possible to create an environment where improvisation and adaptation can occur to produce the significant changes that are needed to accomplish the vision. It is critical to explain how, no matter what obstacles might appear to impede progress, the staff has the skills, knowledge and abilities to overcome them. It is this deep, abiding faith in a leader’s followers that creates fortitude in employees so that they can withstand challenges and even failures along the way. One good example of this is Steve Job’s move of software developers to a separate building at Apple HQ (even flying a pirate flag on top of the building) in order to stress the need to “fight against the system” against all odds to develop cutting edge products.
Communicate, communicate, communicate!
Dr. John Kotter from Harvard business School in his groundbreaking research on organizational change discovered that leaders underestimate the need to communicate the change by a power of 10! The communication should involve more than a recitation of the vision. It should include the business narrative behind the need for change and continued reference to the values and desires of the followers. In other words, “help us achieve this vision and you and we will get…..”
So that the communication is not completely passive, have the followers identify how they could benefit from the changes that will occur as the vision is accomplished. Help them tap into their desires around their job, career and association with the organization.
To seal the deal, commit as a leader to removing barriers to vision accomplishment.
Some employees, particularly those with tenure, will identify barriers to achieving the vision. This is not a cynical view, but more a realistic one. After all if there had been no barriers to achieve the vision it would already have been achieved. Your job as a leader is to demonstrate support for them by pledging to do your utmost to reduce or eliminate any impediments that are beyond their control such as, policies, procedures, systems, employee and management practices and so on. This will help inspire them and show that what you are saying is not just talk. Sometimes this may mean removing, replacing or reassigning people and work. As Jack Welch, retired General Electric CEO said, “making the right personnel assignment is worth more than a thousand speeches.”
With these actions you can be assured that your employees will understand the vision, buy into it and be primed to achieve it. This is how organizational transformation starts. The next step is to execute the changes required to support the vision and that involves motivating and inspiring your staff to stay steady, focused and energized. (See my next blog.)