Research often shows the first trait employees want from their leaders and colleagues is honesty. The second trait they want is for their leaders to be forward-looking.
Setting the direction is therefore a key part of your role as a leader.
You have probably heard the expression ‘start with the end in mind’ from Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
In this article, we look at the points to consider when creating a vision statement. (I have previously shared some exercises to create your vision – see at the end of this article for links to Organisation Development parts 1 and 2.)
Creating a vision statement for your organisation
Champions aren’t made in the gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them. A desire. A dream. A vision.
A good vision statement is inspirational.
It provides an emotional connection that motivates people.
When working with teams to help them create their vision statement, once they have completed it, I ask them to write it, read it back, and then share whether or not they feel emotionally committed to it and inspired by it. Will they do whatever it takes to achieve it? Or does it read like corporate blah blah blah, that sucks the life out of them?!
A good vision statement sets the direction.
It provides guidance on priorities and plans. Everyone’s work in the organisation should be in service of the vision. If not, it gives you a great base to question whether that particular work should be done.
A forward-looking leader will keep an eye on trends and opportunities externally – this will protect the future of the company and maximise its success.
A good vision statement is succinct.
A vision statement is typically one short sentence.
For example, here are the vision statements of some of my clients:
- LEGO: Inventing the future of play
- Hoffman La-Roche: Doing now what patients need next
- Ella’s Kitchen: Improve children’s lives through developing healthy relationships with food
They reflect what these companies are all about – the higher purpose. Who wouldn’t be motivated to help achieve any of these?
A good vision statement is aspirational.
It should be slightly out of reach, so people can get behind a worthwhile challenge.
N.B. Creating your vision statement for a change project
When creating a vision statement for a change project, it’s slightly different. It needs to show what will be achieved once the change has been successfully implemented, listing the benefits to the organisation, its customers, its employees, and society at large.
Leadership is about setting a direction. It’s about creating a vision, empowering and inspiring people to want to achieve the vision, and enabling them to do so with energy and speed through an effective strategy. In its most basic sense, leadership is about mobilizing a group of people to jump into a better future.
John P Kotter
Sharing your vision
While employees see the role of the leader as forward-looking, your vision will only be successful when it’s shared and people get behind it. It’s therefore important to listen to what your employees tell you about their current hopes and needs, and to authentically connect their answers to your vision.
People lower down the organisation often perceive their leaders as a long way away, and the vision as disconnected from their day-to-day work.
Organisations that are purpose driven, rather than profit driven, stand a much stronger likelihood of engaging their employees.
You might have heard this story before:
President John F Kennedy was visiting NASA headquarters in 1961. While touring the facility, he introduced himself to a janitor who was mopping the floor and asked him what he did at NASA. The janitor replied, “I’m helping to put a man on the moon.”
Communicating your vision
Your people should already be signed up to your organisation’s values. Connect the vision to those when you communicate it, and it will create a sense of purpose for everybody.
Remember that everyone is motivated by different things. To increase buy-in, think of different angles and perspectives to communicate your vision.
Don’t just use a top-down approach. Engage people with a bottom-up approach: discuss how everyone’s work contributes to the vision so they see the link. It’ll also empower them to make more informed decisions about priorities and success criteria – and if this is linked to values, it’ll inform the “how”.
Distil the vision into a succinct 60-second ‘elevator pitch’ that is interesting enough to trigger questions.
It’s rumoured that Jack Welch, former CEO of GE Capital, would corner employees in an elevator and ask them to explain what they contributed to the company (think value proposition). If he wasn’t satisfied with their answer, their days at GE were numbered.
Keep telling the story. Leaders often feel they need to keep coming up with new things, but every message should be consistently focused on driving towards the vision.
Walk the talk. As a leader, people take guidance from your behaviour.
If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you.
Implementing your vision
Set your strategy and tactics
Your vision drives your strategy, and your strategy drives your tactics. That way, everyone knows what they have to do.
The strategy is typically a two-or three-year plan to deliver the vision. All eyes should be focused on this, with annual goals for each individual stemming from your strategy.
It’s equally important to invest time in identifying work that doesn’t add value or drive the vision, and to eliminate anything that doesn’t serve the strategy. Employees value those leaders who remove obstacles to them getting their work done. Employee surveys often score the company low when leaders don’t remove roadblocks to achieving the vision – bureaucracy and politics being the main areas of frustration.
To help with this, please see the forcefield analysis diagram in my article Models for decision-making.
Culturally, we are often focused on problems, not successes. If this applies to you, think of ways to allocate time to searching out success stories.
Celebrate what’s working well. Give credit where it’s due. Consider how to acknowledge the people involved in a way that they’ll appreciate. And in particular, take the learning and apply it elsewhere.
Consider your culture
Finally, think about your organisational culture. Peter Senge describes the difference between a learning organisation and a performance-led organisation:
- Learning organisation: Learn what works and what doesn’t and adjust as you go. It’s less threatening and people share more
- Performance-led organisation: Drives a need to look good/successful – but impedes learning
For more on this, please see my article about fixed and growth mindset: How to sustain change
- Look outwards and inwards to inform your thinking
- Involve others in creating the vision statement; it’ll be better quality when more brains work on it, and people will be more committed to something they co-created
- Make it short, succinct and emotional
- Make sure it informs everything people work on: creating a strategy will add the detail that people can be guided by
- Communicate, communicate, communicate
- Look for where it’s working – extract and spread the learning. Celebrate and acknowledge others
- Don’t forget values and culture – as Peter Drucker said: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. It’s so true!
For more insights on this subject, please see my other articles:
Presentation skills and public speaking