Rob Jano
BEc, BCom, CPA, MBA (Exec)

“Is Your Vision Clear?”

In business or government how often have we heard the words, “Let the CEO worry about the vision!” or “Managers manage.  Execs do the fluffy stuff!”
These statements, and others like them, can be thrown straight back at the managers touting them.  Vision setting is something every people leader can and should be practicing, from team leader right through to CEO. 
What is this ethereal thing called “vision”?  Unfortunately the term has attracted some negativism, being tarred as fluffy consultant speak, at best suitable to transformational leaders on a mission to change organisational culture.  This is indeed true and if such leaders don’t possess a vision for the organisations they lead then they are lacking.  But let’s take it further and let’s get back to basics.  Vision is an image of a desirable future that is articulated to and understood by, the larger part of any team.  It tells people where you want to take them and gives them direction.  It tells them why.  It tells them what they will gain, both personally and as a team, if they join you on that journey.  Importantly, it inspires them.
So why then is vision limited to only the loftiest of management heights?  The point is, it isn’t.  Aside from my academic views, as a business leader the most success I have had with my teams is when I have taken the time and shown the interest to give them the leadership they deserve.   That starts with setting a vision that they can relate to both as people and as employees. That is, it has relevance – it is created with reference to the environment, the people and the challenges currently faced or the wonderful opportunities out there just waiting to be taken.  You build it and fashion it with care and deep understanding.
Vision setting is personal and it must be genuine.  It is also a process that, when based on analysis of facts and combined with a true (not fake) passion for your people and for the organisation, can achieve amazing motivational and transformational results.  At the risk of seeming prescriptive consider these hints when setting a vision:

  1. Don’t rush in – if taking over a new leadership role first collect data, meet with staff, ask questions, study operational and financial trends.  Build an informed (not biased) picture of the “now” so that you can assess the gaps with the “desired” future.  Acknowledge the good, respect the past, but identify what your platform for the future is.  If you already lead the team, this part of the process may be faster and data may already be on hand.
  2. Start the communication – even before formalising a vision, you will start to know where you are headed.  Your people will sense, by the conversations you are having and by the questions you are asking, that change is in the air.  They will start to get a sense of what your values and areas of focus are.  Frame these common threads throughout your verbal and written communications.
  3. Share your findings – don’t hide the good, the bad and the ugly from your team.  Share it and by doing so build trust.  Ask people’s views on data, either individually or as groups.  Do it verbally or in writing.  Help them help you fashion the picture.  This not only creates a much richer learning for you, but it paves the way for deeper commitment to any change that accompanies the vision.
  4. Send early signals of cultural change – even before articulating your vision, you will have sensed who or what is not working well.  Make appropriate early changes that are obvious and send a clear message of the way you operate, your values and behavioural expectations.  Such signals vary from team to team – but you’ll know what they are.  Be brave and back your decisions with rational explanation.
  5. Set the vision – gather your team, or if geographically spread use technology, and articulate your vision.  But it is not just a sentence you read or have memorised.  It comes from the heart.  It’s the genuine result of your recent learning and listening.  It’s a future that you truly believe in and are passionate about.  Vision is half intellectual and half passion.  What I mean by this is visions which do not take facts into consideration become the fluffy ethereal things that I challenged earlier.  On the flip side, vision that is pure statement of fact and data, without revealing some of your heart and your passion, will almost always fail to inspire. 

A final point of contention - should vision-setting be a team-based activity?  Should you focus-group the setting of your team’s visions?  My view - consult your team in building your picture and respect the valuable insights they can share, but ultimately people want their leader to lead.  Leaders set vision not focus groups.