I once heard this quote from a great philosopher: “Nothing happens without first a vision.”
We hear a lot about the importance of a compelling vision. Every company I’ve ever worked for had a “vision statement.” Most of the time, it was a laminated paragraph that exuded motherhood and apple pie. It was world class this, top-notch customer service that … yada, yada, yada. You get the idea.
There are a number of components to a great vision. First of all, it needs to be aspirational. It has to be grand enough to inspire the kind of commitment of energy and the discomfort of change required for human beings to evolve from their current state to a higher level of effectiveness.
Unfortunately, most companies make a few critical mistakes when developing their visions.
The first mistake many companies make is what I call the Mel Brooks school of vision. If you remember his movie History of the World, there’s a scene where Moses comes down from the mountaintop with three tablets and tells the people, “The Lord Jehovah has given unto you these your 15 (oops, he drops a tablet) … 10 commandments!”
Most companies take this approach when senior leaders “unveil” the vision and then wonder why their staff isn’t turning cartwheels with excitement. It’s simply because the people have not had the opportunity to participate in the development of the vision. Therefore, they don’t share a sense of ownership or accountability for the vision, and instead view it as “management’s vision,” not ours. People need to see themselves in the vision.
Who Owns the Vision?
During my tenure at a Fortune 100 company, I recall going through what was called our “Transformation Effort.” (We actually got butterfly T-shirts!) The problem with that effort was that it was driven from the top down, and most of the staff didn’t feel they had a voice in it or had contributed to this initiative. They viewed the outcome as management’s vision rather than their own.
Companies also need to be able to connect the dots between what they do every day and how those activities tie into and support the corporate vision.
This reminds me of the old story about a man who is passing a construction site. He asks the first laborer what he is doing, and the man answers, “I’m laying brick making $25 an hour.” The old man then passes the second laborer and asks him the same question. However this man says, “I’m building the most beautiful cathedral in the world!”
This illustrates the importance and the power of people having a personal stake in a company’s vision and understanding how their contributions enable the vision to be achieved.
The bottom line is that people need to feel a sense of ownership and accountability for making the corporate vision come to life. They have to understand on a very personal level the value to them (career promotions, personal recognition, professional development, etc.) of accomplishing the vision, as well as the potential downside of not achieving the vision (being laid off, the job being outsourced, the company being acquired or going bankrupt, etc.).
The only way a leader accomplishes a great vision is through the efforts of a great team—a team that is inspired, motivated, driven and relentless in pursuing this goal. Success is a team sport, and great things can only be accomplished by great teams.
Larry Bonfante is an award-winning CIO with 35 years of experience in the IT industry. As the founder of CIO Bench Coach, he has served as an executive coach and trusted adviser to executives at some of the most prestigious companies in the world. You can contact him on email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @bonfante.