As human beings we yearn to belong to something bigger than ourselves, to something which fills our daily lives with meaning. Throughout history we have been prepared to go to extraordinary lengths in the pursuit of such a cause – whether it is a political struggle or a religious calling.
But as working men and women today most of us already do belong to something bigger than ourselves: our businesses. And one of the key tasks for leaders today is to cultivate a sense of belonging in their employees, so that they each feel personally involved in the success of the organisation.
But how do you go about crafting such a vision, and then securing buy-in?
- Formulate the basics of your vision with passion
You have probably heard the all-time famous ‘vision speeches’, whether of Martin Luther King or John F. Kennedy. “I have a dream”, and all that. But you don’t need to change the world in order to be able to articulate a positive vision about your organisation and where it is going. In fact, according to Accenture’s 2008 High Performance Workplace study, only about 40% of those surveyed actually understood their organisation’s strategy, let alone felt ‘inspired’ by it.
The first step to promote your company vision is quite simply to have one in place.
It doesn’t need to be a complete and extremely detailed vision at first; in fact, the less detail provided to begin with, the more room there is for collaboration at stage two. What is important at this point is that top management are passionate about the business, including what it stands for and where it is going.
As Suzie Welch recalled while Learning & Development Manager at TGI Friday’s, “When our Step Change programme was introduced, it was explained in a highly visionary way and with such excitement that it made you want to grasp it and say: ‘This is what we need to do!’”
- Get your people involved
This is the key stage for successful buy-in. You have the essentials of your vision worked out, and you are passionate about the possibilities ahead, but you need to secure widespread commitment at all levels in order to realize it. And this means that you need to get your people actively involved in the conversation.
It is vital here to realise that you cannot impose your vision top-down on staff; there must be collaboration to be successful. At the very least, you produce the first draft of the vision (which may or may not be written down) and then the team work on it to discuss and refine it further.
Don’t be afraid to be honest and open with staff. In the words of Chris Pilling, former Head of Direct Banking at HSBC, “If you want your people to work with you and really buy in to what you are trying to achieve, you need to treat them like adults – give them the information and trust them to help you develop and implement the solutions.”
- Be flexible
If the vision is to become truly alive, you must be flexible with it and respond to feedback from team members. In the words of Alan Sugar, who hosts the UK version of The Apprentice, “If a room full of people tell me I’m wrong, then even I will listen to them.”
Respond to the feedback of team members, and allow the vision to evolve. Don’t think of it so much as something to be imposed, but to be nurtured across an organisation. Be inventive about how you pool ideas and develop the vision – you could even organize a competition, or sponsor monthly ‘vision ambassadors’.
Vision in leadership
So there you go. If you can keep the enthusiasm going, if you can keep your people involved, and if you can keep responding to feedback from your team, then you should be on your way to embedding a compelling vision in your organisation – and your people should be firmly positioned on that journey with you.