Powerfully Communicating Strategic Vision To Your Team
As a leader we dream of of building a team filled with people who are naturally innovative, conscientious, creative, self-motivated, who go above and beyond their job description because they are hardwired to do so and they enthusiastically and seriously own their career path and professional growth. If you are lucky enough in your career to build a team of effective and productive people, count your lucky stars, reward yourself, and appreciate and recognize the heck out of them!
“Engagement is a renewable daily decision that is voluntarily given when the company has proven worthy of it.” –Jason Lauritsen, Talent Anarchy
As leaders our organization’s vision is ours to own, communicate, and keep top of mind with our team. It’s a terrifying responsibility sometimes but it must be something that we are deeply invested in and – hopefully – devoted to. I have been extremely fortunate in the past couple years to be involved in businesses where the entire team is aligned and driven to achieve the company’s mission and live the company’s values [because the organization earned their engagement]. I am absolutely strengthened by this type of environment. Conversely, I have worked with organizations that hired lower wage, lower skilled workers and homogenized them further into compliance-driven “sheeple” who followed direction and struggled with the most even the most basic initiatives. Making even the simplest of projects overwhelmingly positioned for failure or mediocrity, at best.
Being in an organization with smart and engaged employees that are energized by the dialogs around the future is far more effective and exciting. They were invigorated by uncovering, rolling up their sleeves, and digging into their role in the vision. There was an obvious bias toward action from the majority of the team and these people were quick to surface ideas to overcome impediments, gain clarity around confusion, contribute within the larger group dynamic, and they kept pushing through even when things became blurry. Even during the tough times they experience and participate in, pathologically, creating a sense of camaraderie and teamwork keeping their colleagues motivated, driven, and accountable.
Typically, there is a large gap between the executive team that develops the strategic vision for the organization and the team that needs to execute it. All too often – as leaders – we need to clarify and fill in the gaps to explain the why and the meaning and purpose behind the vision and help keep our team focused and directed.
Getting The Team Excited About The Vision
- Clearly Communicate: I know this one seems like a big…DUH. But the greatest obstacle we face in communicating strategy is ensuring that everyone understands the concept clearly enough to take action around the role they play in the objective. Especially at the lower tiers of the organizational chart, employees are often desperate to find the meaning and purpose their project plays into the overall goal and unless we define that for them and show them how we arrived at the “why”, it can hurt engagement and productivity. There are too many organizations – and even leaders – out there that, metaphorically, take the employees, blindfold them, spin them around a bunch of times, and then expect them to “action it”. Every single team member has the right to know how their role fits in with the strategic vision in order to take pride in the importance of their work and to do the best possible job on every project. We have so many platforms and mediums to ensure there is massive and consistent understanding of the importance of the vision and the status of it at any given moment. We have company intranet, productivity tools [such as Slack], email, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc…to keep the message communicated and the team engaged around it. Communication absolutely must be more then endless palaver, rhetoric, and platitudes around the strategy. It needs to be real, actionable, and simply communicated – constantly.
- Listen For Feedback: Now that you have communicated the vision, it’s time to listen to the feedback from your people, excitement, complaints, and confusion. All of these indicate [yes, even the kvetches] that your team is engaged but they need support, guidance, clarification, and/or recognition. People will feel a large amount of enthusiasm and pride around being a part of something great so listen for your cues to help them achieve success and a huge sense of accomplishment.
- Maintaining Engagement Around The Vision: 70% of of an employee’s level of engagement or excitement about the job or the company they work with is in direct relation to their immediate supervisor. We have a great responsibility to our team to be available for them and to keep them excited and on-track. It is also important to keep them up-to-date on how the company is doing, the status of projects, and/or any adjustments to the current vision.
Making Your Vision Stick
According to a study published in Claremont McKenna College’s Leadership Review; when leaders discuss their organizations’ vision specifically to their team’s needs, not only is the vision better understood and embraced, but they are a leader that is viewed as being more effective in their role.
- Be The Inspiration: The way a leader communicates and opens up a dialog around the organization’s vision can be just as vital as the actual content. Eye contact, facial expressions, hand gestures, tone, enthusiasm, and leadership accessibility all contribute to the increased understanding and excitement around the message. Ensuring you have all the information your team will need and showing alignment with the vision will help your team believe in the purpose and want to support it.
- Challenge Them: While simplicity works in communicating the vision, that does not mean action will be easy. An element of challenge is critical to capturing a sense of accomplishment and can be a catalyst to take action. The Leadership Review study showed that vision discussions that were ambitious and difficult were actually perceived as a plus by employees. If you talk about your vision as fiercely maintaining the – dreaded – status quo, you’re not being effective. If your team feels that they cannot grow or showcase their ability to support and drive improvement, they will be apathetic or complacent around their portion of the project.
- Have A Bias Towards Action: At any level in the organization, the challenge for employees is to try to convert the vision into action during the functionality of their day-to-day role. By mentioning specific tasks, actions, and behaviors that bring the vision to life, leaders can help employees translate the concept into “doing”. In their Harvard Business Review article called “The Knowing Doing Gap,”, Jeffery Pfeffer and Robert Sutton suggest that organizations use the act of creating committees for, and endlessly discussing mission/vision statements as one of the most common substitutes for actually taking action. It’s unreal and frustrating that organizations still get stuck in this “hamster wheel” – some industries more than others. The trick is to create a solid vision statement that is easily digestible by everyone in the organization and one that they can quickly translate into real and forward movement during their daily tasking and production.
- Communicate Inclusively: One thing I observe happen very often is leaders speaking to their teams regarding processes, vision, or disseminating other “corporate” information using the language of “they”. ‘They are rolling out a new timekeeping process. They want us to do it starting Monday. I don’t know why…they just do, so you have to.” Inclusive language such as “we,” “us,” and “our,” [instead of “they”] tends to connect people to – and align them behind – the vision and give them a sense of contribution and accountability. Leaders are perceived stronger and more compelling when they stated and modeled how they were personally living out the vision.