Over the past few weeks, out of interest (and as a decent excuse for a beer), I’ve been talking to various people who work for a number of different organisations about their company’s vision.
Organisations and governments spend vast sums of money concocting vision statements and various consultancies and journals espouse the importance of having a killer vision statement.
However, whist almost every organisation has some sort of vision statement, my suspicion was that many of them were pretty rubbish and had virtually no impact on employees.
So I wanted to know if the vision that their company had set was known? If it was understood? If it meant anything to them in their day to day job? How they felt about having a strategy imposed upon them?
A few key themes emerged from my conversations…
1. The effectiveness of a vision statement is polarised: people are either totally bought in, or not at all.
In my discussions at least, there was no one who truly sat in the middle ground – you either knew it and believed it, or didn’t. In fact, it was quite interesting to hear how impassioned and (frankly annoyed) some people got when talking about their vision statement. A lack of clarity, involvement, communication seemed to drive the frustration, but I thought this was great – all it showed me is that people really wanted a vision!
2. People love talking about vision: aside from the free pint, most people wanted to talk strategy: what it meant, why it did / didn’t work.
Quite a lot of people kept confusing vision, strategy, objectives, tactics – the lot, but it didn’t matter, people just loved talking about the future and what could be – as one advisor told me, ‘hope is always more powerful than fear’. It was also abundantly clear that people wanted to feel part of something, to belong not just to a brand, but an idea.
As humans we look for a a bigger purpose, a meaning, a why (for more on ‘why’ see Simon Sinek) for what we do and how we should look to do it, and vision (plus a bit of strategy) should give us that.
3. Knowing does not equal believing: it’s about the ability to apply not recite.
Even those who could recite either their whole vision or key soundbites were particularly adamant that their vision was not effective because they didn’t understand it and it bore no relevance to their work (although the latter is a likely product of the former).
As a result, for them, the strategy wasn’t effective – it takes more than a snappy, well-rehearsed slogan – people need something more meaningful (to them) to impact their daily lives.
4. Really effective vision is owned by the individual: those who bought into their company’s vision made it their own.
Interestingly, those who had completely bought into their organisation’s vision, didn’t use the right words to articulate the vision, yet the sentiment and core principles were the same – just described in a different way.
To me, this showed a fundamental understanding of what was trying to be achieved (and a principle as to how – for more on ‘Guiding Principles’ see Richard Rummelt on Good Strategy / Bad Strategy) and an incredible level of engagement whereby the individual had begun to shape the same vision in their own words, in a way that meant something to them – they had begun to own the vision themselves.
6. When it works, the vision is pervasive: those who said their vision worked, could give examples left, right and centre of the vision in action on a daily basis.
Truly pervasive strategy is one which can be seen in action across all parts of the business. This is epitomised by JFK’s question to a janitor at NASA as to what he did, the janitor’s response – “I’m helping to put a man on the moon, sir”.
One of the people I spoke to spoke about ‘building better communities’ as a core component of their organisation’s vision – and was able to back it up with example after example of this in action – whether it be through building design, which commercial outlets to bring in, how leases would be structured.
She was describing a number of different parts of her business, all working in alignment against the same vision.
Because they understood it, and believed in it.
So I ask you:
- Do you know what your company’s vision is?
- Can you describe it, in your own words?
- Can you give two or three examples of how you see that vision influence your work on a daily basis?
- Do you believe in it?
If you can’t meaningully answer all of these questions then it’s highly likely that the vision that’s been set isn’t going to be effective, or at the very least, not as effective as it could be.
This is in part because vision should not just be top down, but bottom up. Soldiers who believe in their leader’s cause will fight harder and longer than those that do so under orders: they need to be bought in, engaged and treated as an equal participant of the vision.
Vision should inspire, but to be truly effective, it must engage.
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