My blog ‘We Tried Engaging Our Employees’ Hearts and Minds On Our Vision. Why Doesn’t It Work?’ received interesting perspectives on Linkedin. Thank you Lawri, Andrew and Paul for sharing your views. Broadly, everyone agreed that the issues were fundamental in nature – trust had eroded and credibility needed to be reestablished. Gaining engagement wasn’t a ‘switch-on, switch-off’ process – it went deeper.
Back to the case.
Vinitha felt that communicating a vision was a simple task of checking the boxes – prepare a briefing pack, talk at town halls, take questions, do web chats to appeal to the younger audiences among other actions.
Unfortunately, if it was that simple, we didn’t need leaders to do much! The lukewarm response isn’t surprising with global research reports such as the 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer indicating an erosion of trust in leadership. Furthermore, employees need to see their leaders living the vision rather than ‘tell and disappear’. Leaders are being watched every day and quite closely.
Below are recommendations that can help Vishal be more effective at raising the vision beyond words on a wall to a highly involved discussion among employees on the way they can shape the future of their business, together.
There are a few actions that can make this vision a success.
To begin, internal communicator needs to be thinking differently to achieve the goals for the organization. Vishal has the responsibility to set expectations on what a vision rollout can achieve with or without the direct involvement of employees. In today’s world, employees want to have a say in almost everything that the organization is thinking or doing. It is no more about ‘tell’ – but involve and co-create. This sounds counter-intuitive since there continues to be a belief that internal communicators are expected to control the message, medium and how every employee perceives the content. Unfortunately, the world has moved on and with more and more autonomy demanded by employees at the workplace it will be difficult to ignore these expectations.
No communication can be successful, especially something as large as a vision rollout unless all stakeholders have an equal say in the matter. Visions are no more just the prerogative of the leadership. In this case it does seem like the leadership team went away someplace and came back with a nice sounding vision without checking with those who will finally deliver the promise.
To engage employees and managers, apart from just cascading the messages there is a need to help them ‘internalize’ the vision. When they see their actions congruent with the promise do they believe strongly and thereby become ambassadors of change. A vision launch with all the paraphernalia can’t save an organization – what is expected is a well-rounded plan to motivate, influence and shepherd the employees to their new destination. Holding managers and employees accountable for their role by highlighting those who have played their part and encouraging those who haven’t is useful to make change tangible. This is where Vinitha missed the point. While you will expect that all managers are responsible enough to do the needful, often times they may have other priorities to tackle and the importance of the vision may slip behind. Keeping it on their radar and making sure they are making time are essentials of the leadership team. Employees are always watching leadership actions and if they see that leadership has other priorities, they will also take it lightly.
Aligning internal and external communication is the next element that needs attention. Employees today are more aware than they ever were on the state of the business and how the organization is perceived internally and externally. Most often, they even get to know when there is an inkling of change. However, when they don’t see the customer promise matching the internal promise they suspect there is an erosion of values and trust.
Lastly, large change movements like this vision launch needs to be brought alive though a systematic marketing and branding effort. It isn’t enough to do a one-off event but to sustain interest by making employees and managers key players in the storyline. Create simple templates for them to story tell, share how employees are living the vision and make it large. Don’t forget to recognize employees who live the vision!