37. Communicating Strategy and Vision
Don [00:00:00] The mission statement is what we do. The vision statement is, typically, what is it going to look like as we’re headed there? We try to impress upon leaders that the words don’t count unless their behaviors and actions are verifying and making those words come alive inside the organization.
Don [00:00:20] My name is Don Rheem CEO of E3 Solutions and author of the book, “Thrive By Design: The Neuroscience That Drives High-Performance Cultures.”
Don [00:00:29] I speak across North America on the neuroscience of engagement and I’m passionate about helping leaders at every level create engaging workplace environments where employees feel safe, recognized and validated.
Don [00:00:42] Employees who feel safe are happier, healthier and more productive. Each week, my team and I take on topics impacting managers and we offer solutions to your biggest workplace challenges.
Don [00:00:56] And, you’re listening to Thrive By Design, a podcast created by E3 Solutions to give managers, CEOs and leaders the tips, strategies and tools needed to create an engaged culture at work.
Kelly [00:01:11] Welcome. I’m your host Kelly Burns, vice president of client experiences at E3 Solutions.
Kelly [00:01:17] As always, we tackle critical workplace themes each week with our resident expert and CEO Don Rheem.
Don [00:01:23] Welcome Don and thank you for taking the time to be here with us.
Kelly [00:01:27] It’s my pleasure, Kelly.
Kelly [00:01:28] As we heard at the top of today’s episode, this week’s focus is on how to successfully communicate a company’s strategy and vision.
Kelly [00:01:35] We often talk about the importance of creating attachments in the workplace and one of the key ways that any employee attaches in the workplace is to attach to the company’s mission and vision.
Kelly [00:01:46] We have a couple of different survey questions that really lean towards whether or not a company is good at communicating the strategy and mission and vision of an organization, because it’s one thing to have an articulated mission, but it’s a whole nother thing to see it communicated in and played out on a regular basis.
Kelly [00:02:03] So at a high altitude, one of the questions we ask is whether senior leaders behavior is consistent with the company’s mission and vision. And, in the first year, the results to this question are just not very good. They fall into the disengaged category.
Kelly [00:02:16] Why is that?
Don [00:02:17] Too often organizations have great core values and mission and vision statements.
Don [00:02:22] For example, employees don’t see those, behaviorally, acted out by senior leaders in the organization. That is, they’ve got these lofty things over here, core values, mission, vision or strategy, but then leaders in the organization are behaving in ways that don’t feel congruent with that.
Don [00:02:39] And, this is one of the ways employees decide, are these lofty things just lofty things out there on paper, on a poster? Or, are these really things that drive daily behavior in the organization?
Don [00:02:50] And, it is disappointing to see this score so low especially in the first year. And, we try to impress upon leaders that the words don’t count and unless their behaviors and actions are verifying and making those words come alive inside the organization.
Kelly [00:03:08] On an encouraging note, we also ask a question about whether or not an employee knows how their individual work contributes to the organization’s goals and mission and that gets a significantly higher score. It falls high into the engaged category.
Kelly [00:03:23] So, at a high altitude when you’re looking at senior leaders, maybe way above you, you’re not seeing congruence to living out mission and vision, but at your most granular level in the work that you’re doing, our employees are participants. They do know how their work connects and that gives them that attachment to the mission.
Don [00:03:41] Yeah and that’s a testament, I think, to good job on managers. Connecting this most granular aspect to the organization, what this one individual is doing, how it connects to the organization’s goals more broadly and that is done better.
Don [00:03:55] It is true that individuals have a better sense of what they’re doing and how it connects than what feels like it’s more distance, it’s at arm’s length. These senior leaders, I only see them occasionally but when I do see them, I don’t see things that signaled to me that this strategy and vision of the organization is key.
Don [00:04:16] It can also simply be because CEOs and members of the senior leadership team aren’t talking about them often enough.
Don [00:04:24] Maybe it’s stated at an annual town hall meeting but we’re just not seeing it discussed at the departmental level.
Kelly [00:04:30] Certainly that’s not regular enough.
Don [00:04:32] No it isn’t. You can’t do it once a year. If you want people to feel that the organization is moving in a specific direction, you not only need to identify the direction but then you want to identify typically milestones that indicate you’re making progress in that direction.
Kelly [00:04:47] I think one of the things that we do really well in our organization is celebrating accomplishments to the end of our mission or vision. When we see organizations grow in engagement year-over-year and we know the impact that that has in that organization, we share that with the team and we celebrate together as a team knowing that each of us played a part in helping to make that happen.
Kelly [00:05:08] That’s one really easy way that organizations can communicate the accomplishment of mission and vision on a regular basis.
Don [00:05:14] As a species, the limbic system we talk a lot about the emotional centers of the brain, the epicenter of fight, flight or freeze and emotional processing.
Don [00:05:23] One of the things that neuroscientists have identified is it has a penchant for wanting to know what’s next. Where am I going? What’s going to happen next? And, what happens when senior leaders articulate these strategies and these visions, is it starts to make more clear about where are we going. Where are we headed?
Don [00:05:44] The vision statement is different than a mission statement. Let me start with mission. We’re not talking about that today but a mission statement is what we do. Essentially, the vision statement is, typically, what is it going to look like as we’re headed there? And, this is where some organizations go a little sideways.
Don [00:05:59] When managers in Wells Fargo thought, for example, that the mission and vision of the organization, the strategy was to open new credit card accounts everybody complied. That’s where we’re going and we know what happened. And, that’s just shifting now and Wells Fargo is working hard to change that because they lost a lot of goodwill with the public and with their own customers and clients.
Don [00:06:19] There’s four reasons why I think talking about strategy and vision is so important. First, is what I just talked about. It sets clarity on where we’re going and hopefully how we’re going to get there. With that clarity, we’re also getting better alignment. More people are likely to be moving in the same direction when that direction is articulated and repeated again and again and again.
Don [00:06:44] It also helps to create a shared sense of social identity for employees. That is, they feel like they’re a part of something bigger than the job they do. That’s important. So, you’re going to get much more of a group working together with similar goals and objectives and that feels good quite frankly at a subconscious level.
Don [00:07:03] Also, and this is an area where managers can do a better job and I’d like to talk more about in this podcast is, it gives behavioral guidance to employees. How should I behave? What am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to treat other people? How am I suppose to treat customers and clients?
Don [00:07:18] If, for example, the customer experience is job number one, then I want to make sure the experience the customer has is good and positive, it’s not necessarily closing the sale. How do they feel about our brand? And that felt experiences our listeners know is number one for us.
Kelly [00:07:35] So we talk about why it’s so important for employees to connect with and understand the company’s strategy and vision. But how do managers do this? How do they establish a clear shared vision for the organization?
Don [00:07:46] I think they can start just by stating it in very simple clear ways, terms. Don’t make this overly complex. Simplify it, really simple message on where we’re going and what the strategy is.
Don [00:07:59] I would review it quarterly and you know senior leaders certainly with the management should. And then managers, quarterly, should talk about it with their employees.
Don [00:08:08] It’s not just about what we’re doing, our team is doing or your numbers or our metrics. It’s where’s the organization going? I think exercise as a manager can do is what I would call, behavioral translation exercises, where I’m translating the vision.
Don [00:08:23] So the CEO states a vision for the company. Okay, what does that mean for the marketing department? What does that mean for the accounting department? What does that mean for pickers in the warehouse? And we want to translate that vision into behaviors that we need people to be doing so they have, frankly, clarity about what that is and what their role is.
Don [00:08:44] And too often, and I’ve said this before, these big vision things are often very opaque in terms of what it means for me and the behaviors that I need to do during the day as an employee. And then get really granular with the team.
Don [00:08:57] What does this mean to us as a team and what does it mean for every team member? And get them just to talk about it. Get them to be able to connect and translate the vision into what the team should be doing, how they should be doing it.
Don [00:09:11] And this can’t just be about production numbers. You can’t just be about the metrics around efficiency and it’s not just about being lean. What is the team dynamic need to be for us to achieve this vision?
Kelly [00:09:25] What role does an employee have in creating that company strategy and vision or plan or living it out?
Don [00:09:29] When an employee understands their role in the bigger picture, they’re much more likely to act on it, to be accountable to it, to have a sense of ownership around it. Absolutely.
Kelly [00:09:41] Sometimes though, the vision might shift or the strategy of the company might shift. We work in such a complex environment today if we’re not constantly innovating and growing as an organization we’re still much more likely to fall behind our competitors.
Kelly [00:09:55] And, so what happens when we have a strategy or a vision that shifts and we have a hard time getting people on board with that shift? How do we communicate that and how do we bring people along?
Don [00:10:05] Well you certainly want to communicate “the why” behind the shift and it’s never been easier to do that just because everyone understands the pace of change and the complexity of today’s markets.
Don [00:10:16] Organizations that don’t shift and change have a tendency to atrophy and die. We can see what’s happened with great brands like Kodak and Polaroid when they assume that people are going to continue doing the same things the same way they had before.
Don [00:10:29] So we need to communicate “the why” and it helps if you want to say we want to stay competitive. We want to be the best of the best. And in order to do that continuous improvement, re-evaluation is absolutely essential.
Don [00:10:40] You know, Kelly, you can also do this on an individual level. You can use the company’s vision and strategy, for example, to help get an employee realigned around their behaviors and how they’re interacting with the team.
Don [00:10:53] And you can simply say, look, part of our vision is to be a best in class employer and to be a place where employees want to come to work where we’re a preferred employer. The only way we can get there is if people can work in a safe environment where they’re treated with respect and the way that you’re interacting with other employees clearly does not demonstrate respect.
Don [00:11:15] Or, you’re causing dissension and dysfunction within the team and there’s just no way we’re gonna be able to achieve our vision if people behave like you did and that and that interaction that happened yesterday.
Don [00:11:27] So I want to use this vision as a way to realign people’s behavior. I can use it in the feedback session. Hopefully, I’m having a feedback conversation once a month with my employees just as I can pull pulling core values to use in that conversation. I can also use strategy and vision.
Don [00:11:43] But a manager who can say look, the only way we’re going to achieve our goals as a team and as a company is if we all show up in a positive and proactive mindset willing to roll our sleeves up and work together to solve these problems.
Don [00:11:57] Doing this individually, doing it in isolation just isn’t going to work for us. And so we’re connecting again to that vision rather than just talking about someone being disrespectful or a rude thing they said and just leaving it at that. I want to create as much strength as I can around this realignment process. So, I’m going to link it to these higher altitude elements of the organization.
Kelly [00:12:21] As you wrap us up, how can leaders empower employees to feel committed and driven to do their best work in alignment with the company’s strategy and vision?
Don [00:12:30] Again, just to kind of sum up in a way, that strategy and vision has to be stated in clear and simple terms so that people understand what it is. They then need to understand how those lofty objectives in a strategy and vision relate to the team and that it needs to be broken down for them as an individual. What does it mean for me? And, that “me” part, is brought up in feedback conversations and it’s used in the recognition that’s given and in the feedback that’s given.
Don [00:12:58] And then I believe it’s important for senior leaders to address this at a senior level. Why it’s so important for them? But, not only, why it’s important but it would be great if they signaled wins, that we’ve to celebrate how this strategy and vision we know is working. And, we got this recent big contract because of it and relates to that mission and vision. And, we saw this opportunity first and we lay this out as all as you know three years ago and now it’s hitting fruition and now we’re seeing the results of this.
Don [00:13:29] So, it’s not just the identification of it but also acknowledging the success of it that is so important for employees in the organization.
Kelly [00:13:37] That’s it for today. I’m your host, Kelly Burns and thank you for listening.
Kelly [00:13:41] Tune in to next week’s episode as we talk about how to successfully manage up in the workplace.
Kelly [00:13:49] Are you looking for science-based solutions to increase employee engagement and retention? Are you ready to measure key drivers of high-performance? Do you want your team to look forward to coming to work? Don’t wait. Check out E3 Solutions.com right now.
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Kelly [00:14:21] Thank you for listening and subscribe wherever you enjoy your podcasts. See you next week!