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Leadership Practices that Help Executives and Their Organizations Achieve Breakthrough Growth
By KAREN LINDSEY
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2013 Karen Lindsey
All rights reserved.
A vision without a task is but a dream. A task without a vision is drudgery. A vision with a task is the hope of the world.
A clearly articulated, compelling, and propagated vision is more than just words on paper. There is a perception that vision has become one those trendy, overused leadership ideas or philosophies that every company has because it is expected to. Visions are often nebulous, abstract, and hard to quantify or measure; this makes them not only difficult to come up with and follow, but also subject to different interpretations by different people.
So, why is a vision important? A properly created vision helps guide and prioritize decision-making at all levels from the top of the organization to the individual contributors. Whether you're a manager of a three-person department, CEO of a company of ten thousand people, or owner of any sized company—a vision helps focus everyone on a common image of what their organization is working to achieve. Don't confuse mission with vision. I'm not talking about the mission statement of an entire enterprise that speaks to the purpose of an organization. I'm talking about a vision of the future for enterprises and organizations within an enterprise, from divisions down to small departments. A vision is a compelling statement (or two) that describes the desired future state of an organization. This also differs from goals, which are shorter term, very specific achievements to be made. There can be slightly different visions at each level of an organization as long as they are consistent and support a common vision. An example of a vision for a larger division might be to achieve a number two position in its market by the end of the year. An individual support department (finance, human resources, and so forth) may have a vision of creating demand for their services within the larger organization through proven added value, rather than having to fight to be included.
Before going any further, let me take a minute to define the terms that will be used to describe different levels of companies in this book. The term organization will be used as a generic term for any level of a company. Use it in a way that suits your situation. The term enterprise will be used for the largest and highest level of an organization. Examples include The Walt Disney Company, UTC, GE, and so on. The term company will be used to identify subsidiaries or independent companies of the larger enterprise. Examples would be The Walt Disney Studios, Pratt & Whitney, and GE Capital. Divisions are the organizations within a company typically determined by functional areas or product lines and comprised of numerous departments. Finally, departments are the lowest level of an organization comprised of individual contributors and typically designated according to function.
Without a clear vision there is often confusion about what an organization is trying to achieve other than a profit. Here's a great example. I coached the president of a software development company and conducted a 360 Assessment on him. A 360 Assessment is a process whereby feedback is gathered from people all around the executive—supervisors, peers, direct reports, clients, and so on. It provides a 360-degree view of an executive's strengths and areas for growth and improvement. Some 360 Assessments are quantitative, using data gathered from questionnaires and ratings. Most of the 360 Assessments I conduct are interview style, so the feedback is gathered by interviewing participants; this provides a more qualitative and detailed assessment.
In this particular 360 Assessment during the interviews I asked what each employee thought the president's vision was for the future. I got different answers in each interview. Some thought it was purely financial—to hit some number of sales within two years by any means possible. Others thought it was to focus on standard, off-the-shelf solutions for customers. Still others thought it was to focus on custom solutions for customers. Clearly there was confusion about the direction of the organization. Decisions were being made every day based on which vision that particular leader or individual contributor thought the company was working toward. This is why clear, communicated visions are so important.
Before a vision is created, the proper homework should be done to ensure the vision is focused on the right messages. The right messages are those considered the most important—as determined internally (within the department or organization) and externally (with peer organizations, internal clients, and external customers). A great way to conduct this homework and research what the future state of your organization should look like is to conduct a 360 Assessment on the organization. Prepare a list of three to eight open-ended questions to ask individuals from within your organization (internal) and others that work with your organization (external). Open-ended questions start with what, how, or why and they elicit responses more in-depth than a simple yes or no. The use of open-ended questions can be a powerful way to promote creative and analytical thinking, which can uncover new solutions and opportunities. The power of using open-ended questions is further illustrated throughout this book. Questions that start with why should be used sparingly as they tend to focus on the past rather than opportunities and changes for the future.
The list of interviewees should start with all of the employees in your organization. Start here because you want your employees to understand what you're doing and why, while showing them that their opinion matters first. The questions might be slightly different for the internal employees and external employees. See exhibit 1-a for examples of questions for internal employees.
Ask representatives of organizations that work with yours, up or down the process chain, supporting or being supported by your organization, or any other way that requires ongoing relationships. Do not avoid your biggest critics. They can provide the most insights into areas where your organization can improve. In fact, just asking their opinion in an open, honest, and non-defensive manner can help build relationships and teamwork. See exhibit 1-b for examples of questions for external employees.
Your list of open-ended questions should include at least a few very general questions that may help bring awareness to areas of focus that you haven't thought of before. Then a few more specific (but still open-ended questions) can be included if there are specific areas you want to gather feedback on.
There are some rules for conducting 360 Assessments to help ensure that the most honest and productive feedback is received. Exhibit 1-c provides a summary of rules for conducting 360s.
Visions can be short-term (one year) or long-term (five years), depending on the vision itself. A long-term vision needs to have shorter-term goals that can be reached each year. This will keep an organization focused on that vision, allow for small wins to keep motivation toward the vision, and ensure progress is being made. Anything over five years won't be effective for several reasons. It's hard for any of us to see beyond five years. The world is moving and changing so fast that the vision could become obsolete long before it's reached. Keeping a vision a priority becomes that much harder if it spans beyond five years.
A vision should be clear, concise, and described in as few words as possible. It should ideally be written in one paragraph and preferably in no more than two. The vision should be as specific as possible, incorporating numbers when it makes sense (for example, x% of increased sales, x% of reduced cost, x points in customer or employee satisfaction, and so on). But don't stop at the numbers. Add compelling language that describes what the department looks like in the end, such as "a place where people want to work" or "a department that is in demand." The more descriptive and inspiring the vision, the better. The vision also needs to be achievable —a stretch—but achievable.
The vision should be relevant. Consider the vision of the larger company and the goals being placed on your organization to make sure your vision is consistent. If you're stretching your organization beyond company expectations, it should be in a way that will be perceived as adding value to the organization or contributing to the bottom line. If it's not perceived as adding value it may appear to be a waste of effort or even a distraction from more important work.
The vision should be descriptive enough that you can identify when it has been achieved. This doesn't mean it has to be numbers driven and calculable, but it should include descriptions and words that would be used by others when describing the organization once the vision has been achieved. If your vision is more qualitative than quantitative, you may want to conduct a follow up 360 Assessment to determine the results. Exhibit 1-d provides questions to consider when creating a vision.
Most organizations have a breadth of personalities that are motivated differently. A well-written vision should speak to all of them. Some people are motivated by competition, so using competitive language such as being number one, or beating a competitor in some way will inspire them. Some are motivated by numbers. For example, many salespeople are motivated by quotas because of the commissions they will earn. They may roll their eyes at the descriptive words in the vision. Others might be bored by numeric goals but motivated by inspiring words that describe the look and feel of success when it's achieved. Examples include being an organization others are trying to get into, or creating demand for your department. Consider the personalities of those involved and—hopefully, with their input—create a vision that speaks to them all while being in concert with the goals established by stakeholders (owners, management, corporate, and so forth. Depending on the size of your organization). Often a vision statement will have numeric and descriptive terms. Exhibit 1-e provides examples of clear visions.
Achieving buy-in is critical to the success of a vision. Buy-in needs to be obtained by those in the organization who will be responsible for reaching the vision (typically direct reports), as well as by stakeholders who need to agree on where efforts are being prioritized. The best way to achieve buy-in by those within the organization is to develop the vision with their participation. They will be more likely to own and work toward a vision that they helped create. This will also help promote teamwork. It's sad to watch and hear a leader make a grand statement about a new vision and see that those responsible for it in the organization are either surprised (because they hadn't heard about it yet) or rolling their eyes because they hadn't bought into it yet. That vision is doomed to fail.
Creating a vision gets you halfway there. As a leader, it is then your responsibility to make sure that vision is successful. The minute a vision gets forgotten, its leader loses some credibility. That leader becomes just another leader who is all talk and no action. He or she becomes much less effective because now his or her staff doesn't know which decisions will stick and which won't. The leader's future decisions will hold less weight and will not promote action because the staff will wonder if that new decision will just go away as well. If the vision changes, communicate that—formally and in a timely manner—but don't just let the vision fizzle out.
Once the vision has been written and bought into by those responsible for achieving it (as well as by the stakeholders), it's time to make that vision a reality. This doesn't happen overnight, and it requires diligent efforts to constantly move forward on that vision while managing day-to-day business.
Achieving the vision is similar to managing any large project and it can utilize basic project management principles with schedules, milestones, and budgets. Some organizations go so far as to give the vision project a pet name, catchy phrase, or slogan. That's a great way to give the vision a personality and an easy way to reference it. Another way to get the organization involved is to hold a contest to come up with the name or slogan.
How to Achieve a Vision
Now that the vision has been written, the first step in turning it into a reality is the hardest but most important for ensuring success—planning. Just like any project, achieving a vision requires planning. It's not enough to just say, "Now we have a vision; implement it." How?
The first step in the planning process is breaking the vision down into actions. What needs to happen for the vision to be achieved? What meetings need to occur? What verbal and/or written communication needs to be made? What research needs to be completed? What procedural changes need to occur? What behaviors need to change? Each component of the vision should have actions associated with it. In most cases, there will be many actions because, after all, this is a vision of the future state of your organization. Keep in mind, actions are just that—actions—that start with verbs. They have to be physical things that need to get done, not ideas or descriptions. This can be an exciting step because you'll start to see the possibilities of your vision become probabilities by identifying the actions required to get there. A vision alone without a plan can seem daunting because it's a description of the future and the how can seem overwhelming. When the vision is turned into actionable steps, the how becomes more definable and clear.
Exhibit 1-f is an example of a vision plan for the last vision in exhibit 1-e: "We will rebuild our reputation and employee morale by hitting our project budgets and milestones, and by providing designs with technical integrity." Each step may require further, more detailed action plans. Keep in mind that this vision would have been created with input and participation from the organization itself, so buy-in and any company approvals have already been established.
By the way, just like involving the organization in writing the vision can be a benefit, including the organization in creating the plan can have the same benefits—buy-in, new ideas on how to get the vision achieved, a sense of teamwork, and so forth. This will also help with the next step—accountability. Ideally, the entire organization should be held accountable to the vision in its entirety. Some actions (like behavioral changes) may be required by all, while others might involve select individuals. Whatever the case may be, each actionable step needs to have the responsible individuals identified.
Now that we have the what (vision), the how (actionable steps), and the who (accountable individuals), the piece that's missing is the when. Each actionable step needs to have a deadline or series of milestones attached to it. Again, these deadlines or milestones should be created with involvement by those being held accountable to help achieve buy-in as well as agreed upon, realistic dates. The planning step is now complete. Let implementation begin!
As achieving the vision gets underway, the next step—checking progress—becomes an ongoing activity. The best forums for ongoing progress updates is the weekly department or direct reports meetings. If you don't have a weekly meeting, please see chapter 8. There's an added benefit to discussing progress at these weekly meetings other than progress updates. It provides a constant, consistent reminder and reinforcement of the importance of the vision. There's no better way to keep the message going and incorporate it into day-to-day thinking and decision-making.
Goals, expectations , and even behavioral changes associated with the vision should be incorporated in the yearly performance objectives of everyone in the organization. Th is provides personal accountability for each individual in helping achieve the vision and, again, reinforces the importance of the vision. Building on the example used above for the vision and vision plan, examples of goals for individuals within this organization would be:
Participate in the development of project budgets and milestones
Meet or beat each project budget
Meet or beat each project milestone
Attend all design review meetings
Build relationships with other design departments
Excerpted from Leadership Breakthrough by KAREN LINDSEY. Copyright © 2013 Karen Lindsey. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Vision.................... 1
Chapter 2 Time & Energy Management, Allocation & Focus.................... 17
Chapter 3 Delegation.................... 39
Chapter 4 Strategic Thinking.................... 47
Chapter 5 Building a Growth Team.................... 53
Chapter 6 Participatory & Collaborative Management.................... 69
Chapter 7 Communication.................... 79
Chapter 8 Efficient & Effective Meetings.................... 95
Chapter 9 Executive Presence.................... 107
Chapter 10 Networking & Building Relationships.................... 127
Chapter 11 The Numbers.................... 133
Chapter 12 Managing Your Career.................... 145
About the Author.................... 153