Half of all Americans have compromised vision. If you are nearsighted, close objects are in focus, but distant objects are blurred and indistinguishable. If you are farsighted, the distant scene is clear, but differentiating the near path is difficult. Having the correct vision requires understanding and navigating both the near and the far.
It is like that with companies, too.
This time of year, many of us are busy executing a strategy we believe will usher in our organization’s future. As we measure our first quarter progress, unexpected outcomes may surprise us. If so, ask yourself, or your team, “Is the vision understood?” and specifically, “Does everyone see where we are taking the organization?”
According to TINYhr, a company tapped into the pulse of today’s workforce, only 42 percent of employees claim to know their organization’s vision, mission, and values. Going back to our vison analogy, imagine the stumbles that would occur if you or your team members were using the wrong eyeglass prescription! A lack of progress toward your desired future may be connected to your team’s alignment with, and focus on, the organizational vision.
Everyone knows communications is important to the organizational vision. However, as important as it is to talk about the “what” and the “how,” we need to share the “why” to build alignment and action.
Good leaders communicate the vision up and down the supervisory chain. They look for opportunities to “beat the drum” once more because they know someone in the audience may be hearing it for the first time. Great leaders take that approach one step further. They look for ways to connect this drum beat to this audience in a way that stays with the listener and moves them to act. A key to this approach is clearly communicating the “why.” It is the “why,” the story that connects us to our team, our company, and our future, that actually fuels action.
Think about what stirs you to act in your personal life: the neighbor who needs help, the cause that must be supported, the wrong that must be overturned. When the team understands the “why,” they are better able to understand the “what” and better able to deliver the “how.”
To truly align the team to the organizational vision, you must passionately craft and tirelessly share the story of “why.” For example, when thanking a member of your team or congratulating the organization on a great win, explicitly explain how decisions made, opportunity seized, or resources awarded are bringing the story to life and helping the organization achieve its vision.
Rob “Waldo” Waldman, a noted motivational speaker and leadership instructor, has an extremely useful saying for bringing an organizational vision to life, “Beware of distractions disguised as opportunities.”
Hard-charging teams trying to fulfill a vision will encounter a myriad choices that look appealing but will not actually get them where they need to go. Such choices may require excessive resources or be dependent upon a less than probable (or rational) outcome for the time or energy invested. To help keep the team focused once a vision is well communicated, you must instill within them the ability to assess the difference between opportunity and distraction, and empower them with the courage and discipline to say “no” when “no” is the right answer.
To assess the difference between opportunity and distraction, teams must be able to clearly see and articulate how a particular action ties directly to a specific outcome required to achieve the vision. One useful approach is looking at how many “if-then” statements have to be connected to get from the action to the outcome. For example, “if we expend these resources, then we will be able to initiate the task kickoff” is potentially an opportunity, compared to “if we expend these resources, then we may find a strong partner, and if we find a strong partner, then we will be able to…” When the choice means connecting two or more if-then statements, it may actually be a distraction and not an opportunity.
Empowering the team, and yourself, with the courage and discipline to say “no” is both difficult and, at times, unsettling. It means rewarding critical thinking, accepting tension within the team and acknowledging dissention as a helpful part of the process. To assess your dissention tolerance, actually count the number of “no” decisions made to pursue the vision. If there are few “no” decisions, or worse, few team members even suggesting “no” might be the right course of action, then consider changing how dissention is treated within the organization.
Without alignment and focus on the organization’s vision, there is little chance of building the dedicated effort it takes to accomplish real change. When you only deliver a quick synopsis of the “what” and the “how” while leaving out the “why,” you miss alignment and ultimately, action. If you fail to manage the team’s focus, a distraction disguised as an opportunity can rob you of the resources needed to deliver the vision. Together, alignment and focus, that “20/20 vision,” dramatically expand the organization’s ambit.