I have sat in too many offsites where we spent hours defining a vision, setting our mission, and laying out the goals for our company, only to return to work and have all that hard work left on the table, forgotten in the daily tactical tasks at hand.
I have watched teams work super hard to define their roadmaps, only to have an executive make all this hard work null and void with a new direction and initiative.
What went wrong here? Communication and alignment.
We all know that clear vision and goals are important to getting things done, since after all, you can’t hit a target you can’t see. However, many teams are plagued by misguided visions, and individuals are frustrated by goals that fail to add up to something meaningful and measurable.
You can fix this…
Part of being a leader is giving people a purpose. Everyone wants his or her work to mean something. And as a leader and manager this is one of your top responsibilities.
Think of this like a carpool. One wouldn’t drive a carpool by committee; someone needs to take control and sit in the driver’s seat (well I suppose you could but there are inefficiencies and safety concerns with such a setup). A driver can receive guidance and input on their direction and path, but at the end of the day they are responsible for steering the car from point A to point B.
If you are in the driver’s seat, then you need to take ownership and responsibility for:
- Aligning your team’s goals with the company’s vision (which implies and thorough understanding of the “why” behind what you are doing)
- Communicating that consistently to everyone around you.
Let’s talk about how to drive action with an ongoing campaign. Essentially you want to create a case for change, paint a compelling vision, and then provide doable next steps. There are 5 steps to this process:
Plant the seeds for your message
Publicize and launch your campaign
Cascade milestones and celebrate early wins
Reinforce and create process
1. Crafting a Plan
The first part of any successful campaign is to have a plan (after all “failing to plan, is planning to fail”). You need to understand the top-level direction and goals, and see how your team fits into that big picture.
In smaller organizations this may be completely clear – your team’s contribution to the bottom line is specific and measurable. However, the bigger the company or further down the hierarchy, it can be difficult to measure and translate impact to business results.
If you aren’t sure, then this is a great time to set up a conversation with your manager and make an effort to understand their goals and metrics. How is your success determined? It is more important to deliver things on time than get in all the features? How do you trade off quality and scalability for speed or man hours? Understanding how your manager sees this (and hopefully how their boss sees these tradeoffs too) can help you form a better view and message for your team’s work.
Once you have that understanding, then you have to give people a vision (help them see themselves in a better place), a reason for them to do things differently (a platform for change), and a guide for what they need to do to be part of that way forward (a call to action).
As you think about your message to your team, break it into 3 parts:
- A vision
- Platform for change
- Call to action
Once you have each of these, try to weave them into a story. How will things be different (and better)? What is the impact to the customers (even better if you can have a real story or two about real customers)? How are you going to get there?
2. Planting the seeds of your message
One way of sharing your message is to stand up and broadcast it to everyone. However, this can be met with resistance, or even rebellion. It is much more effective to take a slower approach where you plant the seeds of your idea. Starting by asking people on the team questions, and slowly bring them around to your way of thinking.
This method also allows you to socialize the idea and hear objections, or hear improvements prior to launching the campaign to the larger group. Test your message and your delivery, build your stories, ask for feedback, and observe the reactions. After you do this with almost everyone on your team, by the time you corral everyone into the larger meeting, most people should already be on board.
Be sure to talk to your team, your boss, and your peers in the organization too. You want to socialize and get feedback in all directions before jumping wholeheartedly on this bandwagon.
Just make sure that you get your message right quickly. You are not going to be preaching the exact message on day one of course; it will evolve over time. But you don’t want to inadvertently send the wrong message early on, either, so you should know the general idea before you begin planting the seeds..
3. Publicize and launch your campaign
This can be subtle, or something bigger (like an offsite or team meeting). Pick a forum that is comfortable and suits your leadership style. Here are some ways to officially broadcast and launch your message:
Meetings or call with key people
Deep dive meetings with groups of key individuals
Workshops or offsite to build camaraderie or gain buy in
All-hands meetings or emails (or one followed by the other)
Meetings with the core team to collect input and adjust to new information
Posters or signage in your office or workspace (best used in conjunction with in-person mediums above)
4. Cascade milestones and celebrate early wins
You may think you have done a lot so far, but the reality is, things are just beginning. Now you have to make your message and campaign real, by delivering on it.
It helps to develop some sort of public scorecard or metrics to help people see the results against key milestones and deliverables. Be very clear about what you are planning to measure, and then be consistent about measuring it.
And be sure to keep repeating your message; repetition is essential to adoption (tweet this!). Try to come up with multiple ways to repeat your message over and over. Tell new customer stories, and share the success from accomplishments in-line with your vision. Even if you are bored with it, don’t let it show. You need to maintain your energy and excitement around this vision for those around you.
As part of your planning, try to set up some early wins so that you have the opportunity to celebrate along the way. Be sure to publicly recognize these things, since it will help reinforce your vision and plans.
5. Reinforce and create process
It is possible that there will be a crisis of confidence and that at some point the team will question the changes. Try to create relationships in the organization; your own eyes and ears to help you detect these changes or sentiments early, if you are tuned into the people around you. Make an effort to identify these people, and spend time with them to cultivate those relationships and understand their feelings.
If you need to, you can regroup with the core team, or have another all-hands meeting to reinforce your message. You can also try sending follow-up notes, and celebrating key milestones.
Hopefully you are still measuring and tracking against your scorecard. Having a structured monitoring plan can help ensure you are making forward progress to your vision.
As you set up your process, think about how you are recognizing and rewarding success. Identify your decision points and, if needed, modify them to fit in with your campaign, pushing them closer to the client/customer if you can. If you need some help with this check out the ADEPT team management philosophy which can help you adapt your organizational process.
As a leader, it is your job to set vision and help other people come on board with that vision. Your great ideas don’t mean anything if you can’t get them enacted, and you can’t just make people go along with you (well, you can, but they probably won’t stick around for long if that’s the only reason they are listening to you). Although it takes time to finesse relationships and create a longterm vision with measurable results, it is the only way to be the kind of leader who makes meaningful, lasting change.
The best leaders are constantly evaluating their vision, seeing where it can be improved, and then acting on those opportunities. This isn’t just a one-time “set a vision and forget it” role.
Similarly, you cannot constantly change vision and ask your team to switch direction, either, just because you have an idea for an innovation. There has to be a reason, an explanation, and a buy-in. Setting a vision usually means sticking with a vision, and using what you learn to keep improving it.
Remember always: you are leading a team of people. Think about what they need from you to do their very best work, and you’ll do much better at giving them the tools they need to put your best ideas into practice.