A leader’s vision isn’t worth much if it doesn’t take hold in the organization. And it won’t go far without effective communication. A vision describes some achievement or future state that the organization will accomplish or realize. A vision has to be shared in order to do what it is meant to do: inspire, clarify and focus the work.
“Part of your job as a leader is to generate commitment to your organization’s vision. To do this, you have to communicate the vision in a way that matters to people,” says Talula Cartwright, co-author of Communicating Your Vision (Center for Creative Leadership, 2006). “Communicating a vision is like making a sales pitch,” explains Cartwright. “You want people in the organization to believe the vision and to pass it on to others.” Leaders need to get the word out about the organization’s vision in multiple ways – and keep the message going. Tactics to consider include:
Stories. When you tell a good story, you give life to a vision. The telling of stories creates trust, captures hearts and minds, and serves as a reminder of the vision. Plus, people find it easier to repeat a story than talk about a vision statement.
The elevator speech. Every leader needs to be able to communicate the vision in a clear, brief way. What compelling vision can you describe in the amount of time you have during a typical elevator ride? Be prepared to reinforce the vision in line at the cafeteria, when you visit the customer service department, and even walking through the parking lot at the end of the day.
Multiple media. The more channels of communication you use, the better your chance of creating an organization that “gets” the vision. Use the newest communication technologies, but don’t forget the tangibles: coffee mugs, t-shirts, luggage tags and whatever else you can think of that will keep the message in circulation.
Talk to me. Individualize the vision by engaging others in one-on-one conversations. Personal connections give leaders opportunities to transmit information, receive feedback, build support and create energy around the vision.
Draw a crowd. Identify key players, communicators, stakeholders and supporters throughout the organization who will motivate others to reflect on and be engaged with the vision.
Go outside. Communicate to external customers, partners and vendors with advertising and public relations campaigns, catalogs, announcements and other statements.
Make memories. Create metaphors, figures of speech and slogans — and find creative ways to use them. Write a theme song or a memorable motto.
Guide the expedition. Use visual aids and updates to keep everyone aware of the progress you are making toward your vision. Create a vision GPS, but don’t just give out maps. Travel alongside, stay out in front, offer directions and point out guideposts.
Back it up. If you’re talking it up, be sure to back it up with actions and behaviors. If people see one thing and hear another, your credibility is shot and your vision is dead.
Not Your Vision?
If you’re not part of your organization’s senior leadership team, the broad organizational vision probably didn’t come from you. Your job is to understand and communicate the vision in a way that is relevant to you and your group. To better communicate and build support for the vision, ask yourself:
• What is your organization’s vision?
• How do you connect to your organization’s vision and understand your role in achieving that vision?
• What do you do that shows your passion and enthusiasm for the vision and the organization? What do you do that undermines the vision?
• What obstacles are in the way of communicating your organization’s vision?
• What can you do to surmount those obstacles? What new behavior can you model for others? What new actions can you take?
This article is adapted from Communicating Your Vision by Talula Cartwright and David Baldwin (Center for Creative Leadership, 2006).