#522  Innovative Leader Volume 10, Number 3          March 2001

The Vision Thing
by Karl Walinskas

Mr. Walinskas is a professional engineer, speaker and freelance writer in Dallas, Pennsylvania, helping people and businesses that want to communicate more effectively through The Speaking Connection (www.SpeakingConnection.com; phone 800-807-0759; topspeaker@pobox.com). 

Ever wonder what makes great leaders?  I mean the type of leaders that people willingly follow based on his or her vision alone, like so many lemmings diving into the sea.  We’ve recently had an election, and we heard from both sides of the aisle about their visions for the future of American and the role that government should play in bringing that future about.  Both presidential candidates predictably moved toward the center, trying to co-opt the other guy’s positions to lure the great unwashed, the undecided voter. 

Think of a country as a very large organization of people, each with different needs, talents, and challenges.  Corporate, as well as government, leaders need to inspire, captivate imagination, and raise the people to new levels of personal empowerment so that the overall organization thrives.  People want to follow leaders toward a compelling future, the vision of the company’s success.  The problem is that this vision is tough to get across to the troops.  Even worse, many managers in companies downplay the importance of communicating that vision.  As long as the management knows where we’re going, we’ll get there, right?  No, wrong!  Everyone needs to be singing from the same song sheet.  How do you, as a leader, communicate the corporate vision so that people willingly follow and perform at their highest possible levels?  Here are some tips.

Reasons

This is probably getting old by now, but people aren’t really lemmings.  The main corporate vision has to be communicated along with why the change must take place.  Tell them why the organization wants to dominate certain markets, or why it’s important to delight customers or maintain a great environment for employees.  Employees do what you tell them in order to stay gainfully employed; but real empowerment and buy-in comes from them knowing the reasons for the company’s desire to behave according to the vision.

Repetition

Repetition is the father of learning.  Watch the convention speeches and see how the political speechwriters try to develop a hook phrase that people in the arenas will focus on.  Over and over you’ll hear this phrase repeated.  The corporate vision can’t be told once with the hope that it will stick, because for 96% of the people, it won’t.  The CEO needs to say it, middle management needs to say it, and the shop floor foreman needs to hammer it home too.

Action Orientation

Vision statements need to be action oriented, but this article isn’t about how to craft an effective vision statement, it’s about how to communicate one. If the vision statement, itself, has action verbs instead of the verb to-be in it, it motivates people to put it into practice by being dynamic and memorable.  “We will excel in customer loyalty by demonstrating outstanding service to the customer in every situation” is better than, “We will be the best we can be at customer service.”  Leaders go even further into shaping employee tasks and designing responsibilities that support the overall vision.  For instance, a call center in the company with the aforementioned vision would measure the number of complaints it sees on a daily basis and target reductions in those numbers over time.  That’s called walking the talk.  It’s cliché but it’s effective in communicating the importance of the vision. 

Multi-Sensory Education

Communicating an organizational vision is nothing more than educating.  People learn how adhering to the vision affects their lives.  Well folks, people learn in different ways.  Some love to hear things, they’re called auditory learners; others known as visual learners must see the proof.  Some learn by reading, others, termed kinesthetic learners, by doing.  So what’s the right way to educate the company about the vision?  Target as many senses as possible to hit the dominant learning schemes.  Including an element of the vision into their jobs helps those who learn mostly by doing.  Presenting them with newsletters, emails and displays helps the visual-dominant person.  Stating the message at all board, departmental, and team meetings, maybe even handing out audiotapes explaining the company vision, works on the auditory folks.

Stimulate Emotions

People act based on emotion then later, if they need to, justify their actions with facts.  Every trained salesperson knows this.  Well, a leader trying to communicate the corporate vision is one gigantic salesperson.  How can you stimulate mass emotion?  Let’s look at the politicians again, speaking to a nation.  They paint a portrait of what life will be like if their visions are fulfilled.  Who wouldn’t like to grow up in a world where she knew her kids were safe from nuclear threat or violence in their schools?  It’s the leader’s job to paint that portrait of what the lives of the rank and file will be like when the vision is achieved.  Personal outcomes work the best.  “You’ll earn more, work less hours so you have more time to spend with your families, and know with certainty that what you’re doing is helping shape the world in the Information Age.”  If that were your quote and you really believed it, it would make a powerful statement about the direction you’re setting for the company.

Empower Them

People like to feel important.  They’d rather participate in change then be along for the bumpy ride.  Why?  Because we like to feel like we’re in some degree of control.  Often I am asked what method of travel is safer, a plane or a car.  I always answer a car, even though statistics refute that belief based on number of accidents per traveler.  My reasoning is simple--I don’t fly the plane but I drive the car.  I have no control in the air, completely at the mercy of the pilot.  In my car, my ego tells me that if I’m really effective, I might be able to avoid an accident and still walk away.  I am empowered.

You need the people in your organization to bring the vision you set about, so ask them for their help, empower them to do so.  Then provide the resources necessary for them to be effective and follow your lead.  If the company vision states that all employees will be world class and at the top of their game, but then management doesn’t come up with funds for needed training, the vision is hypocritical.

Coming up with an organizational vision is only half the battle.  Communicating it to the workforce so they respond is the rest of the game.  Touch the emotions and all the senses, make it action-oriented, give them reasons, repeat it often, and empower the people to help and you’ll see the vision take root, take off, and your approval ratings skyrocket.

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©2006 Winston J. Brill & Associates. All rights reserved.