“Few, if any, forces in human affairs are as powerful as shared vision.”
- Peter M Senge, Author of ‘The fifth discipline: the art and practice of the learning organization’
When Dunkin Donuts stated “We make delicious coffee in well-merchandised 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 drinks (which is, of course, what it primarily does). It insisted that it wanted you and I to be invigorated with every experience. And the thought connected instantly, because that’s exactly what you and I want at the end of the day: A sip that makes the fatigue disappear.
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.
Organisational vision needs to ultimately lead to engaged employees. What is Employee Engagement? Well, the term has been variously defined. Employee engagement 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.
We have discussed the importance of starting with the purpose to engage workers in an earlier article. 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, Wherein an engaged employee with shared and aligned vision produces positive augmented results.
Several studies were conducted where employee groups were tasked with a job that would result in a reward. At some point during the experiment, 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’. With zero motivation for the job, efficiency plummeted.
A Mercer | Sirota research indicates that ‘achieving something meaningful’ is one of the main pillars of employee engagement. The underlying reason for this observation was not just noble for the organisation but also selfish for the employees. Nobody wants to be spending their lifetime striving for something meaningless to themselves.
The innate desire to ‘co-create’ a meaningful project - is important for human beings. If leaders sense a lack of drive in their employees, it is a message for them to review their own approach and adjust their sails.
For instance, even the iconic US President George Washington actively sought the support of his peers and countrymen for his bold plans. 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.
“Certainly a leader needs a clear vision of the organization and where it is going, but a vision is of little value unless it is shared in a way, so as to generate enthusiasm and commitment. Leadership and communication (of purpose) are inseparable.”
- Claude Taylor
Purpose has sturdy behavioural science underneath. 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). It is deep coded to dissolve differences, join invisible dots and ‘figure out’ common routes of forward motion.
“Synergy is better than my way or your way. It’s our way.”
- Stephan Covey
An ecosystem 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. It doesn’t just convert current prospects, but opens new doors of opportunity.
A stark ‘collaborate and co-engineer’ was demonstrated by Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com. He threw his leadership team session ‘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.
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.
“The speed and independence of our current environment means that what we can not know has grown even faster than what we can.”
- Stanley McChrystal, Team of Teams
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?”
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 KPIs are met. Below given are the list of advantages of shared purpose:
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 could ‘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.
“If we all worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true is really true, there would be little hope of advance.”
- Orville Wright
The way the Marvel Universe has seamlessly expanded its narrative galaxy, and the way Wikipedia has evolved into a mammoth, interactive knowledge bank are other examples of this synergy. These are all goosebump raising reminders of the kind of wonders that are possible when conviction and will run through the veins of many, instead of just one.
One way forward for leaders is to explain their vision honestly and clearly with the rank and file to inspire people . 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.
In a Weisman Success Resource study 70% of leaders attribute their team’s performance achievements as well as issues to their own communication effectiveness
Here are the other steps that can ensure your shared roadmap hits the tarmac with minimum fuss:
Shared vision may start scattered. Someone has to take the responsibility to bring the jigsaw pieces together. In the business world, the unifying 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.
Empuls communities can be an effective tool to create such forums.
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’ based on feathers, 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.
Deploy systems and contexts that expedite teamwork while engaging with purpose. (Such as mapping effort with impact, an environment of transferable skill sets, horizontal leadership, opportunities for collaboration, avenues to learn and grow, a culture of constructive criticism and sufficient bonding time.) Additionally, nurture a ‘comfort zone’ of trust, and stay patient.
It may start with baby steps, but when employees see their thoughts echoed in a supportive ambience - especially at everyday micro moments – team members will feel confident to begin engaging on their own.
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-simplifying workflows, re-designing organizational structure and re-imagining talent strategies, so be prepared for a makeover. Communication and collaboration tools like Empuls can be useful to this effect.
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.”