As you are reading this, does this sound familiar? Your new boss says she has vision and knows exactly where she wants to take the business. When you ask more questions, however, her response is not really clear. It sounds more like a brainstorm, but certainly not like anything concrete. You realise that you will not be able to relay what she said to your team nor to anyone else. Then you are invited to the board meeting. “OK”, you think to yourself, “surely here people will be clear on where the organisation is heading.” As you listen, it becomes apparent that the members of the Board do have vision – however, they have more than one.
Far too often organisations fail to define and communicate the ultimate goal, leaving their teams to create their own goals and a vision of the future which others do not share.
The problem with this is not that people are unwilling to agree. The problem with this is that money gets wasted along the way. A team will set of in a certain direction, possibly developing a new quality control process, a new marketing strategy or a sales pipeline only to then have to do a U-turn and start afresh, because someone else’s vision is now being promoted. While there is nothing wrong with staying agile and innovative, leaders of businesses and charities need to step up to the plate in defining and clarifying their organisation’s vision over and over again. We know that and anyone who has gone through business and management training has learned this. Yet, the majority of leaders tend to forget this seemingly simple responsibility.
Here is what typically happens. A new leader starts, let’s say, in a charity. He or she is excited, raring to go and full of motivational speech designed to get the team behind a new vision and direction. As they do this, however, they completely ignore the existing vision – as surely it must be bad, because someone else defined it – and, of course, they need to put their own stamp on things.
This is their first error.
Their second error is that they then find their feet and get stuck in other aspects of their role and believe that they made the new vision clear.
The third error they make is not to identify vision champions and instead assume that their leadership team is fully on-board and that things, once the vision has been communicated, will simply play out.
The fourth error is to assume that vision and finances are not linked. This, without doubt is the most serious leadership error.
If vision is not clear, teams literally will go around in circles.
This means that things are re-invented over and over again, which takes time and therefore costs money. It also means that strategies are vague and not aligned. If the marketing team is not aiming for the same goal as the sales team, you will create a culture of hit-and-miss, but you will also never quite know which opportunities you actually missed.
Without vision, there is no measurement.
Without measurement there is no improvement and without improvement nothing much is gained. Teams become listless as they are not achieving, and organisations lose their competitive edge.
We have seen businesses waste hundreds of thousands of pounds simply as a result of not having a clear vision. Charities are losing income for lack of direction, donors’ money is spent on fixing failing teams rather than on the causes they support.
Leaders must have a strategy around vision-sharing. They need to look at vision as one of their strongest tools for success. Board members must champion the vision and support the CEO and others in promoting this vision and seeing it play out. The saying “Where there is no vision, the people perish..”, is not simply a saying, but holds enormous truth.
Vision also requires commitment.
It means that all concerned are supporting the vision long-term. Now, that does not mean that you ignore market forces or innovation, as mentioned above, but it does mean that you do not change course on an ad hoc basis, just because things are not going as quickly as you want.
These are some guiding principles for leaders when it comes to maximising the power of vision:
First: if you are a new leader, assess the current vision. Try and understand it, see if you can buy into it first, before trying to present others with a new vision. If the vision is superb, why change it? Instead focus on how to achieve this vision and help your new team streamline all that they do to rally behind the direction. Make sure you understand where the emotional barriers in pursuing the vision are as these are more often than not the keys to help unlock innovation, creativity and commitment.
Secondly: Create focus time in your calendar every week to think through opportunities where you can share the vision. This could be in meetings, with your leadership team, the guys on the shop floor, with partners, with suppliers, even with competitors and definitely with your marketing and sales teams. Make their work worthwhile and celebrate when your teams have moved more closely to the direction you have set. Do not lose sight of the vision yourself, but own it.
Thirdly: identify or grow vision champions in the organisation. Challenge them regularly to identify, develop and measure opportunities in the organisation as well as the market that will help your team achieve the vision. Help them get off the merry-go-round of lack of direction.
Fourthly: Count the cost of not being clear. Review departmental business plans, assess these against your organisational goals and vision. Do not let teams loose until you are satisfied that the direction they are taking is in line with the overall direction. Evaluate and adjust ongoingly and compare cost savings and earnings across the organisation and cut activities which do not serve the vision. Here is your greatest cost-saving.
If you would like to talk to one of our consultants on how you can streamline your work around your vision or if you would like some help in creating a compelling vision for your business or charity call Jutta Devenish on 07824 897976 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to meet for a cuppa and see how we can support you.