The FINANCIAL -- 22% of U.S. employees strongly agree that their company's leaders have a clear direction for their organization.
Certainly leaders spend significant time and resources defining and communicating their organization's vision. So why do so many visioning processes fail to inspire employees?
First, the traditional visioning process usually takes the form of understanding where we are (i.e., the current state) and then understanding the gaps that exist between the current state and the desired state. This begins the conversation in a deficit mindset -- your organization is already in the hole, so to speak.
Second, the strategy to achieve the vision typically takes the form of a root-cause analysis of problems and issues. Though this is an important exercise to understand what triggers problems, it is often woefully inadequate for a complex human system where problems often arise from unquestioned assumptions and deeply habitual ways of acting (i.e., emotional, psychological and sociological barriers).
Third, linear thinking usually leads to unrealistic visions. The tendency is to produce a clinical, predetermined sequence of steps leading the organization toward the future -- the desired state. Strategic plans rarely integrate easily foreseen setbacks, detours and roadblocks -- and don't include time to revisit and redefine the vision as the situation changes.
The result is a mechanistic model of change that emphasizes the following:
a fear of deviating from "the plan"
Feel inspired yet?
But perhaps most important of all is simply this: Most leaders do not include a significant number of people in shaping the vision, purpose and direction of their organization.
A new vision or purpose statement is often decided among a small group of core leadership and then communicated with extraordinary effort to the rest of the organization. This is all done with the hope that this vision will become widely-shared. In reality, the vision rarely achieves the buy-in that leaders expect.
An Alternative Approach: Get Everybody Involved
What if there was a way to create a compelling vision and guarantee buy-in from the start?
Consider a financial institution that wants to develop a new vision and set of values. Instead of doing a few focus groups with employees and leadership off-site, the executive team decides to engage a large part of the employee population in the process of determining the vision and values.
Next, employees across levels and functions come together in collaborative visioning sessions to discuss the organization's strengths, aspirations and future strategy -- with a focus on what's already working.
These comments are pulled together and shared with leaders who then develop a vision statement. Crucially, because employees had a critical role in shaping the vision statement, there is naturally greater buy-in and a strong commitment to the vision.
The result is a small army of "change champions" from Day One.
Genuine Change Comes From Meaningful Conversations
Effective leaders are not limited by the biases of their leadership team, nor do they make big decisions based on a few personal experiences. They actively interrogate their own assumptions and are hungry for new information that changes the way they think.
And real change -- if it is to happen at all -- emerges from meaningful conversations.
By bringing new voices together, new discussions can happen, new visions and dreams can be articulated, new perspectives can emerge, new passions can be aroused, and new possibilities for the future can develop.
Simply put: If you want to have a different conversation, you have to change the people with a seat at the table.
Focus on Employee, Team and Organizational Strengths
Gallup research shows that teams that focus on strengths improve dramatically on a range of key organizational metrics and outcomes compared with control groups where leaders did not apply a strengths-based approach. Leaders who focused their teams on strengths saw a 14% to 29% increase in profit, a 3% to 7% increase in customer engagement and a 9% to 15% increase in engaged employees.
Leaders can focus their vision and strategy on what truly works for their teams and their culture rather than obsessively trying to fix what's broken.
Importantly, there is something truly powerful about the inquiry into organizational strengths as opposed to weaknesses. The moment you ask the right question, it changes you -- and it changes them.
When leaders have a deeper understanding of their people's perspectives and strengths, and include their input into a vision or purpose statement, leading becomes easier and change becomes inevitable. Why? Because people naturally begin to identify with and champion the change they themselves want to see.