As a CEO, one key responsibility you have is to build and share a vision that will help to propel the organization into a very strong future. The vision needs to inspire your team while reflecting the changing market; it needs to be timeless yet timely; it needs to be broad enough to reflect all stakeholders yet specific enough to be unique to your company.
When the vision is adopted and implemented, you see the results: inspired team members who own that shared future and pull together to strive toward it. But why do some companies struggle to implement their vision? It has to do with a missing step in the sequence.
The first step is to cast the vision—it’s a huge task that you have the privilege of completing. The second step is to share the vision—where you disseminate the vision to your team. Most CEOs know and do these steps.
Unfortunately, there is a third step that is often overlooked, which can hold back your company’s likelihood of widespread adoption. And if you’ve seen other organizations establish a vision but miss out on implementation, it’s because they failed at this subsequent step.
You cast the vision and you share the vision… And then you need to prove the value of contribution.
This third step—proving the value of contribution—means that you need to show each and every employee how their specific job contributes valuably to the achievement of the vision.
Visions tend to be aspirational and lofty, created to inspire and excite. But your team shows up to work each day to do the work they were hired for—the work that they feel a sense of ownership and pride over—and there is not always a clear connection between the lofty aspirational future language of your vision and the stack of papers sitting on their desk right now that needs to be done before the end of the day.
CEOs often just assume that everyone will jump on board with the exciting inspiration, and that they will immediately understand how their work contributes. But not all employees think that way. If you’re the CEO who has been working on the vision for months, you’ve had time to think unconsciously how your own role contributes to the vision. Yet, when you introduce the vision to your team, they’re hearing it for the first time and they are thinking about the work they do each day and they’re trying to draw a connection between the two.
From your executive team to the night crew that shows up to vacuum and dust, every person should understand how their work helps to make the vision a reality.
Want to see just how widely adopted your vision is? Walk down to your warehouse or mailroom and ask the part-time, minimum wage employee who is sweeping the warehouse or sorting mail about your company’s vision. Ask them what the vision is. Ask them how their work contributes to it. Chances are, they won’t see the connection.
This will be true throughout your organization. You’ll hear employees fail to accurately state the vision; you’ll hear many more employees fail to articulate how their work contributes. Among those who can state the vision, you may even hear, “that’s the company vision but…” And that “but” will often reveal what your employees are more focused on—usually the day-to-day tasks that they were hired to complete.
So, how do you draw a direct line between your vision and the valuable contribution that every employee makes?
With the help of your management team, you’ll need to break your vision down from the company-wide aspirational statement into department-specific ideas of how each department contributes to the company vision. (Be careful that these don’t become “mini-visions” that replace your company’s larger vision but rather simple ways to articulate the department’s contribution to the vision). While the above step adds weeks to the vision-casting timeline, it’s critical to achieve widespread adoption deep into your organization.
Then you’ll want to connect with your employees in no-pressure conversations where you invite them to share what work they do and how each task contributes to the company’s vision. While some of these conversations might be delegated to managers, you should try to connect with a few of your employees at every level of the organization because the effort is illuminating (and because managers can become protective and defensive about the work their departments do, even if it doesn’t contribute to the vision).
Build internal activities—from contests to events to quarterly themes—around different aspects of the vision and encourage departments to do the same at the departmental level. This helps keep your vision at the top of mind but also creates regular excitement around the contribution that each employee makes to the vision.
As a CEO, you build a vision for your organization that is meant to inspire your team and propel your company into a strong future. Although most CEOs complete the vision-casting and vision-sharing work easily, many CEOs miss out on the last essential step—they fail to communicate the value of each employee’s contribution.
Employees need to be shown the clear connection between your company’s lofty future-oriented vision and the stack of work they have on their desk that they need to complete by the end of the day. When you can connect your exciting vision to those day-to-day tasks, you’ll see more of your team buy in to your vision and they’ll pull together to work as one to achieve it.
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