I was working with a client a while back, and as I facilitated a discussion with a group of middle managers, I asked several questions like: Do you know where the company wants to be in a few years? Can you tell me what success looks like for this business in the future? Can you describe the vision of the company? It was evident from the discussion with these managers that they had no idea what this company wanted to be when it grew up, and therefore, didn’t know how they could help get it there.
When I met with senior leaders in the same business, I shared with them that the people in this company didn’t know what the future was supposed to look like and therefore, couldn’t be accountable for it, or help the business achieve it. The response from the leaders was, “but we already told them.” They went on to describe several meetings where they communicated (their word) what the vision was for the organization. They continued to show me how they defined it as reaching X number of dollars in revenue within 5 years.
Here is the concept they were missing; that vision only becomes vision when the people in the organization understand it and are compelled by it. Until then, it’s just a leadership statement that puts a check in the “vision box.” There’s been so much talk about mission and vision in the business community over the last several years that virtually every company has created a statement they use to make themselves feel good about having a vision. For most businesses, their investment in creating a vision statement is like me spending money on a top of the line set of golf clubs, it wouldn’t change my game much.
Vision isn’t about the statement; it’s about everyone in the company understanding how his or her role connects to the future. It’s about everyone knowing at the end of the day, week, month, quarter or year, if they moved any closer to what the vision represents. It’s about everyone in the organization not only being able to describe the vision in their own words, but actually being compelled by it and feeling like it’s something worth achieving.
For all of these reasons, communicating a vision can’t just be “we told them what it is.” Each department, function and individual has to collaborate in the process. People don’t buy into the vision of others until it becomes their own vision as well. We keep forgetting this as leaders. We often feel like after the statement is read to the team or the business that our job is done but that’s actually the beginning of our job. We now need to listen. We need to listen to how they feel about it, how they can contribute to it, what they think needs to be added, changed or deleted.
We have two choices as a business leader. We can create our vision and watch it die, or help them build their vision and see it thrive.
That doesn’t mean that we have to give our vision up for something that is less successful. It’s not about removing ours and replacing it with theirs. It’s about letting them shape the initial vision to make it more compelling, more real and more tangible for them. If we as leaders can’t cause that to happen, we will have to be content with framing our vision, admiring it, and hanging it on the wall somewhere because we will never actually get to achieve it.
If you’ve got a vision for your business, congratulations, you’ve taken the first step to moving your organization towards it’s potential. But now you must, share the vision, let go of it and let the people making it a reality on a day-to-day basis make it their own. Otherwise, the first step really doesn’t matter, no matter how great it looks on the wall or the website.