There are at least a hundred things a week that will wind up on the desk of every leader. Maybe a hundred every day.
And much of what lands in your lap really does warrant your attention…especially if you serve as both leader and manager. (A bit on this juggling act in a moment.)
But of all the items that vie for a chunk of time, one job belongs permanently pinned to the top of every leader’s priority list: the challenges associated with casting a Vision of the future.
A Reason To Believe
Let’s get this out of the way early: casting a Vision is not about writing something that sounds nice for the website. It is about articulating the reason you show up each day.
Far from some snappy prose pulled out for select marketing occasions, a compelling Vision foreshadows what success looks like. In the process, it has practical application — defining destination and clarifying the purpose for each action.
An enterprise-wide understanding of the Vision is what actually generates leverage (versus the mere number of hands-on-deck). It becomes a shared focal point for every member of a team and for each initiative along the way.
In a Northwestern University study respondents linked having a clear purpose to feeling that their work had meaning. In a marketplace wrestling with burnout and dropout, this desire for purpose becomes increasingly important to attracting and retaining top talent.
Add the fact that research suggests that a sense of purpose is a major factor when it comes to overall health, as individuals driven by purpose tend to experience cardiovascular disease with less frequency than those simply putting in time.
Need more? Purpose seems to result in a higher level of optimism, adding to the present day value of a Vision that foreshadows goals and aspirations realized.
Leading On Purpose
Most of us don’t need to see the data. Personal experience underscores the reality that motivation comes from a clear understanding of the link between a given task and a sense of meaning.
This doesn’t mean that performance metrics aren’t important. Nor would we argue that goals and KPIs don’t help to motivate certain members of almost any team.
But when conversations around metrics — however critical they might be — significantly outnumber the discussions of mission and vision — why we do what we do — be prepared to lose that portion of your talent pool driven by a reason that transcends revenue.
The Juggling Act
A shared Vision intentionally nurtured results in an organic framework for daily operations for every manager on the team — even the leader who must also manage day-to-day execution.
No one is suggesting that Vision is a silver bullet. The daily demands and persistent distractions can obscure the grandest Vision. But where the Vision is fuzzy or nonexistent, there is some work to be done.
So here are three ideas to consider as you create a practical vision and mission for your firm.
Focus On Action. At the risk of repetition — this isn’t about words. A compelling Vision should provide a framework for every consequential decision — including governance, leadership, comp, opportunities to pursue, initiatives to launch, who to hire and how to market. A Vision statement that fails here should be revisited. Or trashed.
Be Audacious. In his mega best seller Built To Last, Jim Collins identifies the existence of a BHAG — a Big Hairy Audacious Goal — as a distinguishing characteristic of the companies that change the shape of the marketplace. BHAGs transcend metrics and border on the unimaginable. A Vision statement should do no less.
Think JFK’s 1961 vision for the US to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. Or the pre iPod vision Steve Jobs had to put a thousand songs in your pocket. An audacious vision is big, bold and stirring.
Create Regular Vision Communiques. Saying it once and posting it on a website won’t get it done when it comes to creating a sense of purpose for every team member. Regular internal communication should recast the Vision, highlight its shared nature and give everyone a sense of their essential role.
Perspective For Today
A Vision that is central to processes and tactics is what sustains creativity and inspires innovation.
If every member of your team isn’t clear about the Vision, and how their respective role is connected, consider making this a focus over the next six weeks. Far from a soft exercise with little application to the bottomline, a clear Vision unlocks perspective for every decision made, every initiative launched in the coming months and the role of every team member.
Where leaders successfully cast a Vision of tomorrow, at least three benefits impact performance today.
- An Engaged Team — motivated to do whatever it takes.
- Talent Retention — by connecting the individuals in whom you’ve already invested to a clear purpose for the nuts-and-bolts work that is necessary each day.
- Talent Acquisition — by clarifying who to pursue and differentiating recruiting efforts with practical direction and opportunity.
The leaders who master this lead the organizations best prepared to weather turbulent times, increase productivity and stability and ultimately — to borrow another Jobs-ism, put a dent in the marketplace.
And who wouldn’t like to see an innovative dent in the marketplace?
(Note: I have a new keynote on the Dynamism of Shared Vision. If you’d like information on this OR on our workshop on creating your mission and vision statement, shoot me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.)