WHY HAVING A VISION ISN’T ENOUGH.
To truly engage people at work, you must SHARE your organizational vision with them.
When Microsoft Inc’s brand slogan claimed “We are smarter than you”, it didn’t just attract admiration - lawsuit threats flew in from various directions in almost equal numbers. When Dunkin Donuts stated “We make delicious coffee in well-merchandized stores” in their purpose statement, customers took note. When Coke described its mission as “To refresh the world” however, we stopped, smiled and reached out for a bottle.
What Coke did was add the WE to the ME. It didn’t say it manufactures cola drink (which is, of course, what it primarily does). It insisted that it wanted you and me to be invigorated with every experience. And the thought connected instantly, because that’s exactly what you and me want at the end of the day: A sip that makes the fatigue disappear. The goal, was mutual. The purpose, was shared. The result, was magic.
The above may be a brand-consumer dynamic, but it plays out with the same effervescence when the two parties in the equation are (A) company and (B) employee.
YOU’VE STARTED WITH THE WHY: NOW, SPREAD THE FEELING.
This article is ultimately about Employee Engagement, so let’s begin with a quick 101. So what is Employee Engagement? Well, the term has been variously defined. In its most universally accepted avatar, the concept can be explained as the level of attachment an employee feels towards an organization and its goals (note that it is not always the same as employee satisfaction or employee happiness, though these can be important indicators). Making time to make sure your employees are engaged isn’t just ‘good HR’, it’s good business. According to a Towers Perrin research, companies that boasted an engaged workforce pocketed 6% higher profits. And if we go by a Kenexa research, businesses with an engaged workforce fetch 5X stakeholder returns over a 5 year period.
We have discussed the importance of starting with the WHY to engage workers in an earlier article (catch it HERE). As it turns out though, having a powerful WHY is only the first step. For you to have a workforce that’s genuinely engaged, motivated and fulfilled, your organizational WHY must align closely with your workers’ WHY : The reason that makes each of your team members get up in the morning and head to work.
A disengaged employee is highly likely to interpret work as ‘boring’ and underperform. In landmark experiments conducted on either side of the Atlantic (one sponsored by the Federal Bank of America and the other by London School of Economics) - where a group was tasked with a job that would result in a reward – it was seen that in some cases, performance dropped dramatically even when the incentive level was cranked up. While flummoxing at first glance, the rationale triggering the behaviour was profoundly simple: Everytime a task, assigned randomly, turned out to be ‘boring’ (from the individual’s point of view), it did nothing to trigger the ‘brain juices’. With zero motivation for the job, efficiency plummeted. Check out the TED video here: https://bit.ly/2vy0kzi
PURPOSE, GOOD. SHARED PURPOSE, GREAT.
In his article for HBR, Marc Bonchek argues that while Purpose is good, Shared Purpose is better. You can pay your employees to CREATE something FOR you. But when you let them CO-CREATE WITH you, the involvement is palpably higher. A Mercer | Sirota research indicates that ‘achieving something meaningful’ is one of the main pillars of employee engagement. The underlying reason is selfish and noble at the same time: Nobody wants to be labelled by posterity as worthless. We all want to leave our impact behind. We all want our names to be part of the legacy.
It could also have something to do with the way humankind evolved as tribes. That streak hasn’t disappeared from our blood completely. Being part of a community still brings a powerful sense of security, empowerment and happiness. From the workplace and productivity perspective, these are non-negotiable ingredients if you are tinkering with a recipe for concentration, effectiveness and success. Here’s a look at the 5 kinds of tribes in society: https://bit.ly/2wgOBFZ (How many of these can you spot in your organization? Do share in the comments section below)
The innate desire to ‘co-create’ – have a finger in the pie, so to speak - is an important psychological clue for leaders to review their approach and adjust their sails. Not surprisingly, all great leaders – down the ages – have had an instinctive wind of it.
Alexander - the great Greek general who fought over 70 battles without losing even one - was famous not only for setting larger than life goals, but for soliciting the opinions of his generals to refine them iteratively. Iconic US President George Washington – the gritty visionary who effectively united the northern and southern parts of his country on the brink of civil war - actively sought the support of his peers and countrymen for his bold plans. Winston Churchill – the lion who roared for the British Empire against Hitler’s men during World War II - while essentially belonging to the inspirational school of leaders, sagaciously slipped into collaboration-mode when dealing with other heads-of-state. Entertainment magnate Walt Disney built an empire by accommodating feedback graciously. Closer to modern times, communicating (with both internal and external stakeholders) clearly and frequently is one of the pillars of Jeff Bezos’ leadership style.
MORE THAN MUMBO JUMBO : IT’S SCIENCE.
All this isn’t pop psychology or some kind of touchy-feely mumbo jumbo. There is a solid scientific explanation underneath. You see, sharing a vision leads to the creation of synergy - a powerful tool to not just make things work, but to do so by consuming less time, energy and resources (without sacrificing quality or quantity of output). This is because by its very definition and DNA, synergy is ‘breakthrough oriented’. It is deep coded to dissolve differences, join invisible dots and ‘figure out’ common routes of forward motion.
An eco-system that is synergistic at heart is able to absorb the turmoil of transition and breed new competencies into the system to make it more resilient and responsive. The best part? It doesn’t just convert current prospects, but opens new doors of opportunity.
Shared vision leads to synergy. Teams with a shared objective are therefore not just perpetually involved stimulated, but also taste success more frequently and consistently.
WHY COMMAND AND CONTROL, WHEN YOU CAN COLLABORATE AND CO-ENGINEER?
The stark difference between the two was gloriously evident when Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com, threw his Offsite ‘virtually open’ for all employees to attend it from anywhere they want. On that day, he didn’t just share a screen, he shared a future. The overwhelming response can make for a case-study on the theme in its own right. (read it here: https://hbr.org/2011/07/are-you-a-collaborative-leader ). It is, in part, also the reason behind the popularity of platforms like Yammer and Basecamp : Designed to manage teamwork, they often end up amplifying it.
PURPOSE BEATS THE PLAYBOOK, ALMOST EVERY SINGLE TIME.
General Stanley McChrystal - in his book Team of Teams – argues that teams adapt more easily and respond with greater agility when harmonized by a common passion. This can be a priceless trait to have in times of rapid, technology driven change. A shared journey acts like a compass, focussing all ideas and energies towards achieving the end in the smartest possible way. When you don’t have a manual or precedence to fall back on, heuristic is your only resort for real-time decision making. When you are not sure about the ‘right’ step to take, a common aspiration makes things easy. All you have to ask is, “Will this be good for the team?”
ADVANTAGES OF SHARING THE OAR.
Sharing a vision brings more benefits for the team than cohesion. When employees are truly engaged – that is, motivated in their role and take pride in their job - they become self-driven and make valuable contributions to the organizational journey. They will instinctively skill up in optimal ways, align abilities with targets, brainstorm for best ways forward, improvise to remove bottlenecks and operate with minimal supervision to ensure KPI’s are met. Whichever point of view you take - be it productivity, learnings, culture, diversity, positivity, innovation, trust, training or costs - it’s a thumping win.
BENEFITS OF SHARING VISION
- CLOSE-KNIT, MOTIVATED, POSITIVE & RESULT-DRIVEN ECO-SYSTEM
- SELF-ALIGNED, SELF-APPRISING, SELF-CORRECTING TEAMS.
- BIG SAVINGS ON TRAINING & ORIENTATION COSTS (SELF-IMPROVEMENT )
- QUICKER STRATEGY IMPLEMENTATION DUE TO GOAL-ALIGNMENT
- ROBUST & DYNAMIC KNOWLEDGE BASE (CONTINUOUSLY SHARED LEARINGS)
- NATUALLY INNOVATIVE CULTURE
- ORGANIC DECISION MAKING
- BOOSTED PEROFRMANCE VIA ENHANCED EFFICIENCY.
- STABLE TEAMS WITH LOW ATTRITION.
The advantages of employee participation and worker engagement go beyond work, of course. A Harvard study found that people with active social lifestyles (that include going out to dinner, playing cards and vacationing with friends) enjoyed increased lifespan – by as much as two and a half years. What all those fitness posters and work-life-balance speeches couldn’t achieve, a culture with greater involvement can.
EXAMPLES OF EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT BEING BOOSTED BY SHARED VISION.
So when does the penny drop? How do you know that your dreams aren’t yours alone? When do you know that business mojo and worker wish-lists have finally intersected? Conventionally speaking, there are many ways to measure employee engagement - from surveys to performance metrics to morale. But the truth is, you’ll get wind of it way before HR can implement all those programs. You just will. The fervour will be electric. The energy, palpable.
The fervour was palpable during the Manhattan Project when a group of specialists scattered around the atlas managed to maintain complete secrecy as they carried out their highly covert nuclear program (aimed to stall the relentless progress of the Germans) during WWII. Despite being separated from each other by miles, the steely, shared resolve to stave off a common enemy acted as a powerful glue, ensuring success for the collective project.
The energy was electric when the Wright Brothers (and their rag-tag team) toiled endlessly to ultimately build a machine that can ‘fly’. Their ‘rival’ Samuel Pierpont Langley - the prominent social influencer of the time - failed in his mission to build the world’s first aeroplane despite being flush with resources. The difference? Langley was going for fame and money, while each member on the Wright team was fired by an entirely different motivation: They wanted to change the course of history.
It was a shared passion for computers and technology that brought Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak together to breathe life to Apple Inc. It was the shared belief that they were far superior to their peers that – perhaps even more than Pele’s masterful show - that made the Brazilian team of 1970 the greatest to ever lift the soccer World Cup.
The way the Marvel Universe has seamlessly expanded its narrative galaxy… the way the constitution (both India’s and that of the USA) was delivered flawlessly in times of tumult… the way the Indian cricket team beat Goliathesque adversaries to claim the cricket World Cup in 1983… the way Wikipedia has evolved into a mammoth, interactive knowledge bank… are all goose bump raising reminders of the kind of wonders that are possible when conviction and will runs through the veins of many, instead of just one. There are countless references of shared destiny in the animal kingdom as well. Wolves hunt in packs, bees thrive in hives. geese fly in V’s.
Having workers sharing your vision and co-contributing to your journey isn’t about devising policies and strategies that mechanically align roles with KPI’s. Not saddling an engineer with a chef’s job is important, but basic. Indeed, when you apply an external force like that, you defeat the very purpose. Sharing the ‘Why’ is about finding the sweet spot where the ME and WE coincide naturally. Admittedly, however, the two fit like a glove only in a perfect world. So is there a way out? The short answer is yes. Talk about it.
HOW TO ENGAGE EMPLOYEES BY SHARING VISION? WELL, START BY COMMUNICATING IT.
One way forward for leaders - and those who follow the Collaborative style of leadership is best suited for this – is to explain their vision honestly and clearly with the rank and file. Awareness (or the lack of it) lies behind more problems of the world than we realize. It is perfectly possible that better familiarization with the necessity, urgency and impact (both short and long term) behind a certain organizational goal generates enthusiasm and support for an idea that was initially greeted with indifference. You must translate your vision into words that connect. Unfortunately, data tells us that effective communication is an area where most leaders struggle.
Here are the other steps that can ensure your shared roadmap hits the tarmac with minimum fuss:
- Unify your clan.
Shared vision may start scattered. Someone has to take the responsibility to bring the jigsaw pieces together. Malcolm Gladwell (in his blockbuster bestseller ‘Tipping Point’) waxes eloquent on the power of ‘Connected Souls – a ‘breed’ of multi-dimensional individuals who have interests in a wide range of topics and are well connected with different social worlds. Their unique position enables them to bring together people – souls who wouldn’t otherwise run into each other – making them valuable ‘connectors’. In the business world, this role is usually played by the leadership since they have easy access to cross organizational departments, but there are plenty of exceptions. Do remember that this doesn’t need to always happen within the four walls of the organization: Clubs, industry forums and even shared neighbourhoods are perfectly good arenas for Connectors to work their magic.
- Engage the periphery.
Connector-Leaders have to also ensure that they are not leaving anyone out – irrespective of hierarchy, age or background. This is particularly true in cultures that actively practise diversity. Left to their own devices, humans tend to ‘flock’ basis feather, and it is upto the collaborative leader to stimulate and draw them out of their shells. Ensure fair representation – without that, sharing vision is a myth. And engagement, more a delusion.
- Set the stage.
Don’t put the cart before the horse. Change – when manmade - can be messy if unplanned. So make sure the team is aware of your mission and marinated for the transition. Deploy systems and contexts that expedite teamwork(such as mapping effort with impact, an environment of transferrable skillsets, horizontal leadership, opportunities for collaboration, avenues to learn and grow, a culture of constructive criticism and sufficient bonding time), nurture a ‘comfort zone’ of trust, and stay patient. It may start with baby steps, but when they see their thoughts echoed in a supportive ambience - especially at everyday micro moments – team members will feel confident to begin engaging on their own.
- Lose the leash
To create a workplace that is truly collaborative in spirit, you must be ready to sacrifice control - sometimes to an extent that makes you queasy and uncomfortable. This can call for de-silofying workflows, re-designing organizational structure and re-imagining talent strategies, so be prepared for a makeover. Consider this step litmus test and validation rolled into one. After all, if the ship can’t take itself forward – assuming fundamentals are in place - the big dream is probably doesn’t resonate across the organizational fabric.
And how does it all pan out on the ground? In terms of workflow feasibilities, one way to go would be to break down skillsets granularly to build an ‘ability bank : A fluid ‘competency ecosystem’ (as opposed to ‘teams defined by walls’) if you will - which invites a worker, whose knack and talent maps most closely to the task at hand, to contribute and co-create the next milestone for the organization.
“If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” No better way to sum up the magic of a vision that is truly shared, than this timeless African proverb.