Consider these scenarios:
- At a regular health check-up at a recognized hospital which claimed to fulfil the lives of customers in its vision statement I found to my surprise that my height and weight had dramatically increased when the support staff took the measurements! When I consulted the doctor and explained that I could never grow two inches in a few days he sent me back for a re-evaluation. The staff at the counter called out to a passing attendant and asked her if she remembered her weight! The attendant nodded and then was made to stand on the weighing scale. When she got off the scale she was asked if her weight was as per her expectations and she nodded again. I was told that the scale was accurate and therefore their earlier reading was good! You can imagine my amusement and also the fear that possibly every other measurement at the hospital may be out of whack!
- We needed to upgrade our digital TV set-top box from a well-known Indian brand that describes itself as a respected business house in its vision statement for customers and promised a world-class viewing experience. When I ordered the upgrade I wasn’t told of an ongoing offer that shaved off the first month’s fees from the upgrade. Only when I chanced upon a leaflet at home that explained what I was entitled to did I challenge the discrepancy and the customer care executive profusely apologized for the oversight.
- A colleague working in the procurement department threw ‘policy’ at her colleagues and delayed an important companywide project resulting in missed expectations. The project, crucial to the success of the organization, needed interventions from various layers in the hierarchy to restart the process. On investigation, the organization discovered that their process and policy were so rigid that the colleague didn’t have the flexibility or the empowerment to take decisions to fulfil customers’ needs on her own. The organization incidentally had a vision that put the customer at the heart of everything they did!
Vision statements that claim to rally employees often fail to communicate the essence of engagement. Vision statements are essential and do help leaders and organizations keep employees focused on the journey ahead and the future. When these vision statements end up as messages on walls and meeting rooms and less on staff’s minds they cause mistrust and confusion. The above examples highlight how vision statements don’t help when employees aren’t aligned.
Internal communicators can play a crucial role in making visions come alive and stay embedded in the organization’s ‘collective conscious’.
Articulating the vision: While a cascade is useful, helping employees understand the rationale, reasons and principles of a new vision will provide the context they need to internalize the statement. Leaders can share their perspectives by demonstrating ownership by beginning their conversations with statements like ‘To me, this vision means…’ or ‘I will make this vision a reality in my team by….’. With most workforces having employees from different generations you also need to tailor the message to suit how they prefer to receive such communication.
How we will make it land: Landing a vision is about helping employees see the big picture, showing them the way to getting there and allowing them to live it. Explain the ‘ways of working’ and the ‘what’s it in for us and you’ perspectives. Give examples of work that the organization currently does which relates to the vision. Break down the vision into easy and digestible parts – possibly key words that resonate. Yes, you will need to make it visible on your walls but it shouldn’t end there. Give employees ways to explain the vision in short hand – for which you will need ‘elevator’ pitches. Ask them to specify how they will live the vision using statements like ‘In my daily work I need to do the following to live the vision’ or ‘Things I expect others to do to make it come together’.
Helping employees observe progress: To overcome the skeptics keep the buzz alive by sharing progress and perspectives. Create a simple template for employees to share stories in line with the vision and plans. Have leaders recognize great examples of work accomplished aligned to the vision. Use statements like ‘I know we are making progress on the vision when I see the following….’ . Have leaders share progress based on what they hear from customers and stakeholders. Proof points will include testimonials and commitment to grow as a business.
Guiding leaders through the journey: A vision isn’t a silver bullet. It will take time to guide leaders through the various phases – articulate (explain the course), appeal (invite everyone to pull along) and accelerate (align to move ahead). Provide templates for storytelling and material they can use to reinforce and reaffirm the organization’s support for landing the vision. Leaders also need to allow their teams to take risks and fail and being courageous to talk through the learning.
Knowing when we have succeeded: Every leader is keen to know when the vision has reached all corners of the organization and employees are living it right. Sometimes the measures of success can be quite difficult to articulate at the start. It might be about more business coming in, more work that stakeholders share, better engagement inside the organization, improved collaboration among others. You need to gauge how many employees understand the vision after giving them a fair bit of time to internalize the messages. Use statements like ‘I know how this vision relates to my work’ and ‘I feel I am supported to live the vision’ to understand employees’ commitment to the future of the organization and their teams. Directing staff to keep an eye on such parameters will help everyone stay connected and disciplined.
In summary, to get everyone behind a vision internal communications can play a vital role in steering the organization in its journey. Making a vision a reality means making it visible, obvious, real and appealing.