Get This Leadership Habit Right to Build An Engaged Culture

Leaders In The Workplace

This kick-off of a new 5-week blog series will focus on our Culture Builder Toolkit’s “5 Essential Habits” for fostering an adaptable, high –performing organization in today’s super-rapid change climate.

Today, we will focus on Habit #1: Clarity and Alignment towards Vision.

  • Is your organization undergoing change? (eg, merger, new strategy, new leadership.)
  • Is your entire organization clear and aligned about what that change looks like, why it’s important for business success (really), and what is their part in that change?

The answers to these questions is often “Yes” to the first, and “No” to the second. Every organization today is undergoing constant change – it is essential to keep competitive advantage.

However, the true power to grow does not reside in the ability to change fast.  It resides in how well you communicate the Vision to people who will implement the actions. How you convey the link between  changes to the business, and that Vision.

Today’s workplaces, it’s not enough for leaders to HAVE clear vision. Job #1 for today’s leaders, is ensuring that EVERYONE in the organization understands and is inspired by that vision.

For the past 30 years, research has demonstrated that a top predictor of high performance in an organization begins with clarity and alignment about Vision: Where we are headed, and a short description of how we are unique – offering superior value to our customers and a winning play in our market.

Change fatigue is common these days for one simple reason: It is not anchored in a Vision that ignites mass appeal. Change is often force-fed, flavor-of-the-month, or fails the common sense test – in service of “meeting our numbers.” Thus, people’s hearts aren’t in it. Without heart buy-in, you will never drive high performance.

True Buy-In is Heart-Centered

Most organizations overly focus on HOW (Strategy) to win or change, and short-change the essential narrative about WHY (Purpose) and WHAT (Vision).

Purpose and vision are the most essential elements of capturing the hearts of people. Think about romantic courtship. You don’t approach love from the logic position; it’s an emotional connection. Fostering passion in the workplace is akin to this. Business wins in the long-term when  leaders “romance the game.” Vision is the love letter.

Leaders could gain a lot more heart-share within their organizations if they treated business less as a chess game, and more like a block party.

Future So Bright, Where Are My Shades?

Let’s look at an example to illustrate this distinction.

A client in the consumer products industry worked with us on this problem: “Our strategy is to open new markets. We are reaching saturated market share in the U.S. Asia is an untapped market. All of our competitors are beating us to it. But we cannot create urgency for this change among our management team. The culture we live in now is comfortable maintaining our cash cow in the U.S., versus growing.

This company was a clear victim of the biggest problem in business today: Dry strategy, blah, blah, blah, people yawn and go back to their desks and business as usual.  There is no connection to something hopeful, fun, interesting, or worthwhile for ME. This strategic narrative is also rooted the past (our old culture does not support our future goals).

It does nothing to convey an attractive, emotionally compelling story of the future opportunities that come with growth.

Strategy That Connects to a Vision Feels Very Different…

It centers around a more emotionally engaging narrative:  “Our strategy is to open new markets in Asia. We believe all people have the right to access to good products, to feel empowered in their decisions, and we strive to support them by making it easy and affordable.  While we are strong in the U.S., growth is how we create more opportunities for everyone – career moves, training, pride in success . We hope everyone comes along for the journey!”

Change efforts that only serve to overcome a problem state can feel flat, uninspired, defeatist.

  • “We are losing market share.”
  • “We are not executing our plans quickly enough.”
  • “We cannot get cooperation between the sales and customer service organizations, and even though we have the best service, our customers are going to our competitors.”

These efforts lack meaningful connection to something people can strive for, create, be hopeful about: A compelling future state.

In contrast: Right now, consider one change in your business. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What is our desired future?
  • Who do we want to become?
  • What opportunities and possibilities exist for people if we achieve this?

Taking time and energy to foster an emotional connection for people, to a future state – is where you evoke passion and motivation.

Changes grounded in the PAST, not in the FUTURE, wither in the deadly zone of compliance. They do not FEED energy and commitment – they ERODE it. They foster resistance, right from the get-go.

“What’s Possible” Leadership

Solutions anchored in VISION, shift the conversations to possibility. A great Vision:

  • Magnetizes action towards it.
  • Excites people’s emotions.
  • Creates new energy.
  • Provides focus for tough decisions.
  • Reminds us of our unifying purpose.

Leaders who draw this out in people foster a collective “innovation state of mind” in which ideas flow and plans take shape that increase energy and commitment.

This paradigm shift is essential for leaders to understand in the modern organization. The faster the pace of change, the bigger the Vision must be.

Perhaps we eliminate the words “change” and “transformation” from our business vocabulary, and focus on “Leading” and “Winning” and “Being Great” vocabulary.  Visionary concepts, such as reflected in these examples:

WWF: We seek to save a planet, a world of life. Reconciling the needs of human beings and the needs of others that share the Earth

Microsoft: A personal computer in every home running Microsoft software.

Google:  To provide access to the world’s information in one click.

Toys R Us: Our vision is to put joy in kids’ hearts and a smile on parent’s faces

Amazon: “Our vision is to be earth’s most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.”

Apple (from an interview with CEO Tim Cook): “We believe that we are on the face of the earth to make great products and that’s not changing. We are constantly focusing on innovating. We believe in the simple not the complex. We believe in saying no to thousands of projects, so that we can really focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to us. We believe in deep collaboration and cross-pollination of our groups, which allow us to innovate in a way that others cannot. And frankly, we don’t settle for anything less than excellence in every group in the company, and we have the self-honesty to admit when we’re wrong and the courage to change.

 I’ll See it When I Believe It

What makes these Vision statements so remarkable, is they were declared and imagined before they had basis for reality. We can look at any one of these and RECOGNIZE the organization’s intent by who they are today.

Jeff Bezos set his Vision for Amazon in 1996. Who would have believed at that time, that buying anything and everything online was possible (or desirable) when most people didn’t have a computer at home, let alone a smart phone or access to the internet?

Leadership is fostering a great block party based on FUTURE imagination. It will always sound a bit crazy and unachievable. In the speed of our world today, it is easy to react to what’s already happened, versus disciplining ourselves to cultivate imagination: WHAT WE WANT TO HAVE HAPPEN.

Take the First Steps

If you are leading change – of any size or scale (catalyzed by some desire to change your current state), begin the process by taking a quiet retreat from your busy schedule, sit down with a pen and paper and an open mind … and ask yourself the questions your people will be asking …

  1. WHAT is the real possibility or opportunity before us?
  2. WHERE do I want this organization to be in 3, 5 or 10 years? (you choose the timeline).
  3. WHAT is the evidence of success that would satisfy ME, that we have achieved this? (in 2018, 2020, etc.). What would satisfy the stakeholders who have entrusted us?
  4. WHAT am I willing to stand for and not be distracted from, in leading this company forward? (what is my legacy?) This is the question that deserves real attention once you’ve laid out the Vision. You have to be compelled and committed and excited, or no one else will be.
  5. Be SPECIFIC. Vague generalizations don’t mean much. Think about “painting a picture with words.” The more specific you are, the more you will feel a positive emotional draw towards it.
  6. SHARE your Vision with people who have a stake. (In our culture work, this is a robust communication process.) Over and over and over. It takes sometimes 15-20 repetitions to create believe-ability in our noisy information-overload world.
  7. READ it daily. The more you stay tuned in to it the more you encode it into reality. Some organizations I work with start every meeting by reading their Vision and Values. Very powerful practice.


Follow the 80/20 rule: 80% of the communication is about the Vision.  20% about the Core Strategies we will use to get there.

And watch the energy in your team or organization soar.

If you are interested in the full Culture Builder Toolkit, check it out here. Or, get your free sampler by signing up on our website. 

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