Vision First!

Leadership Vision quote 300x169 - Vision First!Kristen and Jason sit at a table with a divider between them.  Each has a box containing a 500-piece puzzle.  Kristen has the box with its original top, which pictures the completed puzzle.  Jason’s box has no top, with only the puzzle pieces in the bottom half.

They are invited to begin assembling their puzzle, and both start spreading out the pieces in front of them.

Kristen studies the picture of the completed puzzle for about 30 seconds and begins creating piles of puzzle pieces that seem to be approximately the same color. She seems tentative but thoughtful.  Jason looks slightly bewildered. He moves the puzzle pieces around aimlessly, trying a little of this, a little of that.

Kristen finds a match between two puzzle pieces and her fingers start moving more rapidly, searching for a mate to the coupled pieces.   After ten minutes, Kristen has assembled approximately 30 pieces and is on a roll. Jason has only just found his first match.

Freeze frame!

To the leader of a $20 billion organization who made more than $5 million last year and asked the question: “Why do we need to communicate a vision to our employees?”
Do you get it now?

And to all the leaders who read this Report, have you painted a clear picture of the future to your team? I’m not asking if you have a strategy or a plan. Or if you want to be the biggest or the best, whatever that means.
I’m asking if you have communicated to your team—whether it’s three people who work in your retail store or the 20,000 people who work all over the world—what the finished product is supposed to look like–what needs to be different in the way you do things? Is that picture filled with a sense of purpose and meaning—why you must realize that vision and who will be better off when you do?

If this vision talk is too touchy-feely for you, I invite you to think again.

Research by a number of forward thinkers in the social sciences has shown that what many leaders do is center on the company when there are at least four other sources of meaning and motivation that can be tapped to create energy for change.

In a McKinsey & Company article entitled “The Inconvenient Truth about Change Management,” Scott Keller and Carolyn Aiken state that many leaders miss the opportunity to provide meaning and motivation. Instead of focusing on the company, leaders should focus on:

  • Society: making a better society, building the community, stewarding resources;
  • The customer: providing superior service, better quality products and making it easier to do business with;
  • Their people: building a sense of belonging, a caring environment, working together efficiently and effectively; and
  • ‘Me’ personally– my development, my paycheck/bonus, the autonomy I need to make this a better world.

A number of years ago, I was invited to attend a meeting with the newly appointed CEO of a technology company as he met with his 50 top managers for the first time.

After the requisite greetings, the CEO asked that the lights be dimmed and that the people in the audience close their eyes. He then quietly said, “It is five years from today. In this month’s Fortune magazine, there is a story about our company. Please let me read it to you.”

The article, he said, began by discussing why and for whom the company exists—how in five years we have become a business with a purpose—to make the world better off. In the CEO’s words, the article described the company’s values, why customers buy the company’s products, the proprietary know-how they possess, the leaders’ philosophy about a concept called servant leadership, how employees would be working with the leaders, the performance the company had achieved and its image and reputation throughout the world.

It was an uplifting, sobering and detailed description that lasted nearly 30 minutes. When the CEO ended his remarks, the lights went up. The 50 leaders in the room stood and applauded for 10 minutes.

That presentation of the CEO’ vision was only the beginning. It and pieces of it were repeated thousands of times. Employees were invited to participate on teams that would modify work processes, planning, goal setting, training, pay and recognition programs so they would align with the new vision so it would be implemented in practice.

Whether you lead a department, a small retail store or a Fortune 500 company, if you asked all of your employees to describe your vision, would you be pleased with their response?

Key Takeaway: A vision comes first, the plan second.  A vision is fixed, lasts longer and is inspiring. Plans are able to be changed, are often fleeting and rarely inspiring.

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