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Share the Vision: Employees Can’t Embrace What They Can’t See

April 12, 2016

Some people are wonderful with details. They can take an incredible vision, break it down into bite-sized pieces, and identify a laundry list of tasks to be completed in order to realize the vision. I do everything I can to surround myself with these people, because I am not one of them.

 

I’ve had some moments of analysis paralysis where I consumed every detail of a project. But for the most part, I’m more a big-picture guy. I leave the details to someone else.

 

I’ve worked for companies of different sizes. I’ve worked as a front-line manager for a huge company, where the vision was decided at levels far beyond mine. I’ve worked as an executive for a mid-sized company, where the vision was decided by the chairman of the board. And I’ve worked as the principal of a consulting firm small enough to fit into your living room, where I was an integral part of creating the vision.

 

While each scenario was different, one aspect remained the same in each organization. The people responsible for carrying out the vision wanted to know what it was. They wanted to know how what they accomplished in their job contributed to the overall direction of the company. They wanted to be a part of something big.

 

This is the start of a wonderful thing. A vision has been created by those with the responsibility for setting the direction of the company. The employees responsible for carrying it out are anxious to know what it is, and how they can contribute to making it happen. Then somewhere between the development of the strategy and its implementation, something happens. Management ­doesn’t pass the information along to the very people who can help the company realize the vision.

 

According to a survey by Right Management Consultants, a career transition and organizational consulting firm, about two-thirds of employees do not know or understand their employer’s business strategy. How can we ever expect a team of employees to help us realize a vision when they don’t even know or understand what it is?

 

Of the organizations responding to the survey, 28 percent limit such communication to only their leadership teams, 24 percent have not yet communicated the vision to all employees, and 15 percent are uncertain of the best way to do it.

 

Procrastination is pretty common, so I can understand the 24 percent that have not gotten around to communicating the vision, although I would remind them that an uninformed employee is a disengaged employee. I can even cut some slack for the 15 percent who just ­haven’t figured out the best way to communicate the vision, but I would strongly encourage them to get it figured out.

 

The percentage in this survey that baffles me is the 28 percent that limit the communication of the business strategy to only their leadership teams, as though they are the only ones worthy of knowing the vision. And you’ve seen the scenario: The strategy is shared with a handful of key employees who are expected to use their genius to make it all happen. They scurry around working 14-hour days, and never let anyone in on the deal.

 

Whether you’re creating a new vision or mission from scratch, or you’re tweaking an existing vision or mission because of changing times, you have a responsibility to share it with the people who can help you realize the vision. Not just the people at the top. Not just the managers. Every single employee in the organization should know what it is, and how their work contributes to it. You do a disservice to yourself, your company, and your employees when you assume lower-level employees don’t care about the business strategy of the organization.

 

The method you use to communicate the strategy will vary depending on the size of your organization. Some companies choose to hold Town Hall Meetings. Some engrave it on a plaque and hang it in the lobby or laminate cards for employees to carry around in their wallet. Pick a method that’s appropriate for your organization. But once you’ve communicated the vision of the organization to every single person whose efforts contribute to the realization of that vision, the real work begins. Perhaps the most important thing you can do is build a consensus for the vision.

 

For those leaders who took part in creating the company’s vision, buy-in is not too difficult. But for the vast number of employees who were not part of the planning process, buy-in may be hard. It’s not that employees don’t want to follow the direction. Quite often they just don’t get it because they weren’t a part of the process to develop the direction, and there ­wasn’t a concentrated effort to help them get it.

 

I know what some of you may be thinking: “We ­couldn’t even get everyone on the leadership team to agree with the plan. How in the world are we going to get every employee in the company to agree with the plan?”

 

Building consensus is not about getting everyone to agree with the strategy. Building consensus is about getting everyone to agree to the strategy.

 

In the ideal world, employees at all levels would be involved in the development of the mission and vision of the organization, and everyone would agree with the direction. There is perhaps no better way to build consensus than to have buy-in from employees at all levels. Not only do you create buy-in of the vision, you let employees see how their work contributes to the vision.

 

In the real world, the leadership of the organization creates the mission and vision, and the employees are expected to follow it. By instructing people to follow it rather than building consensus, we produce mediocrity at best. Quite simply, employees will show up to work and perform the function instead of pursuing the vision. True engagement can happen when we have everyone around us contributing to the bigger picture.

 

Clint Swindall

 

© 2016 Clint Swindall — Clint is the president & CEO of Verbalocity, Inc., a personal development company with a focus on leadership enhancement. For information about how he can enhance employee engagement in your organization, please visit www.verbalocity.com, or contact him directly clint@verbalocity.com.

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