The Importance of Vision in Driving Engagement
This is the second article in the series ‘How to increase employee engagement‘.
In a recent leadership development programme I asked a group of managers to communicate the importance of vision in a more creative manner than usual. The result was a play with two parts. In the first individuals carried out instructions: ‘Move these stones from here to there’, ‘cut these stones into these shapes’, ‘put those shapes stones over there’, and ‘pile these stones on top of each other like this’. In the second act, an architect pulled his team together and said, ‘We are going to build a cathedral…’
Their wonderfully played drama (with much laughter) demonstrated the importance of vision on employee engagement far better than I ever could.
We all know vision is important, yet so few organisations have a crystal clear compelling vision. This may explain why more than 4 out of every 5 employees are not engaged at work (1). Moving rocks from A to B rarely excites.
After working with hundreds of organisations, thousands of employees, and reviewing literature and available research, I’d suggest there are four key areas to drive employee engagement:
- A clear, compelling, aspirational vision
- Clear strategy with a set of objectives to reach the vision
- Defined and communicated roles and responsibilities
- Explanation of importance of employee’s role in achieving the vision.
This article will look at the first, how to create a clear, compelling and aspirational vision.
A clear, compelling, aspirational vision
President JF Kennedy in 1961 said “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.“ At the time, no man had set foot on the moon, and the competition (the Russians) were further ahead in the space race. JFK’s vision engaged with young and old, rich and poor. A NASA cleaner, when asked what his job was, answered, ‘to put a man on the moon’. (2)
We spend much of our lives at work. Work needs to matter. It mattered to the cleaner. Do your employees feel the same way?
Most vision statements are vague, nondescript and woolly. If a book was written listing vision statements it would be prescribed bedtime reading for the stressed executive. Hardly surprising over 80% of employees are not engaged at work – there’s nothing to excite them.
The sense of ‘making a difference’ is something that drives us all. Interview those who are highly engaged and they will convey the importance of what they are doing. Such purpose is driven by an aspirational, wonderful, energy giving vision. When motivated in this way, we work harder, in a more disciplined way, seeking to learn and develop in order to do our job better. Why? Because our job gives purpose to our lives. Who we are matters. What we do matters.
Where an organisation lacks a clear and compelling vision, driven employees take matters into their own hands. Their personal desire to improve, develop and deliver drives them. They are outstanding employees. They go above and beyond the call of duty. But, these same employees become frustrated at a lack of collective drive and accountability to achieving a shared vision, they get frustrated. They burn out and become disengaged. Or, they leave to find an organisation who collectively seek to make a difference. Somewhere where others share their passion and drive.
What makes for a good vision?
The very word vision suggests something visual, and the best vision statements conjure powerful images of a desired future. “A man on the moon” sparked the imagination. It was wonderful, fanciful and yet potentially achievable if everyone worked together. Your vision statement should likewise paint a powerful future picture of a desired state.
It needs to engage both our heads and our hearts. We give of our best when we are emotionally engaged, so your vision statement needs to engage emotionally. But, if a vision is unrealistic, (such as I want to be a premiership footballer at age 45) our heads (rationale, cognitions, logic) stop us before our hearts can get carried away in a futile effort.
Define your vision
Vision is the ultimate image of what you want to achieve. No matter whether you are just starting out in business, or a FTSE100 company, the following exercise can help you distil the key elements of what your vision should incorporate:
Fast-forward ten years. Your organisation is the lead item on the news. What would you be the most proud to hear?
Take some time. What is the newscaster saying? What are the images being used? What are the headlines?
In JFK’s ears, it was, “Man takes first steps on the moon”, and he achieved it in 1969 (3).
So what about you? Write it, draw it and picture it. Reflect and evaluate. Get excited. Discuss, debate and distil it. Live it. Breathe it.
This process takes time. So give it time. You want a memorable yet highly aspirational statement which comes from your very essence, which, when you speak it to others, they immediately picture it for themselves. If you see a spark and a smile, a sense of wonderment, the mind trying to work out how to do it, you are onto a winner.
Cathedral building is so much more interesting than moving rocks. Wouldn’t you agree?
Feel free to contact me for more information if you are looking to develop your leaders, managers, board or general culture within your organisation in order to improve performance.
To your success,
(C) 2015 Welcome Insight. Image by HikingArtist.
(1) Gallup (2002), The High Cost of Disengaged Employees, Business Journal, (http://www.gallup.com/businessjournal/247/the-high-cost-of-disengaged-employees.aspx [accessed 22/6/15] and Gallup Inc. (2013). State of the American workplace: Employee engagement insights for U.S. business leaders. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from www.gallup.com/strategicconsulting/lóSOOy/state-american-workplace.aspx [accessed 3/8/15]
(2) Berens, R. (2013), The Roots of Employee Engagement—A Strategic Approach. Empl. Rel. Today, 40: 43–49. doi: 10.1002/ert.21420
(3) BBC, On This Day, 1969: Man takes first steps on the moon, http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/july/21/newsid_2635000/2635845.stm accessed 3/9/15