|Engaging the heart|
Kamran Rizvi, Navitus
“Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
Ask your people what the organization does, and invariably everyone will know. Enquire how it does what it does, and most managers, if not all your staff, will be able to provide you with an adequate answer. Don’t be surprised if you find perplexed expressions on the faces of your employees to the question, why your organization is in business.
Simon Sinek, teaches how leaders inspires. He suggests that we need to communicate about our business in this order: first the ‘why’, then the ‘how’, followed by the ‘what’. Conventional and uninspiring organizations do the reverse – they describe the ‘what’ first, then the ‘how’ and, later, if at all, the ‘why’.
Organizational vision answers the ‘why’ and helps people connect emotionally and intellectually with the organization’s reason-to-be. And this is what engages the heart, and consequently commitment in everyone. Conversely, an attitude of compliance may get the job done in the short-run, but it will not be sufficient to achieve breakthrough performance on a continuing basis.
As we look around the corporate landscape, both in Pakistan and elsewhere, we find examples where well intentioned campaigns to roll out vision, mission and values fail to engage the heart. This is because the proponents lack authenticity and credibility. Lack of meaning and sincerity behind platitudes soon become apparent and ‘traditional’ management practices that illicit compliance instead of commitment, return to haunt us.
There is a strong case for having a long-term vision in organizations as it serves to align human energy. You would have to make a fundamental shift in your personal understanding of visioning and its value to your organization before measuring its impact on overall performance. Warren Bennis and Burt Namus, in their best-selling book, “Leaders” state that, “a vision articulates a view of a realistic, credible and attractive future for the organization – a condition that is better in some important ways than what now exists”.
Your challenge as a leader is to inspire people by passionately sharing a larger than life view of the future. John Naisbitt asserts, “Strategic planning is worthless, unless there is first a strategic vision." It is the higher purpose that engages the heart and tasks are performed with a high degree of ownership and commitment. While this is so, your responsibility remains to produce results in the current accounting period also. These competing demands – managing the short and the long term - have to be managed!
It is sad to witness a burst of activity on vision and mission statements for a few months, involving hours upon hours of meetings, where top management literally drives down “original” concepts of a bold new future for the organization, to stunned employees, only to be followed by a period of silence and listlessness. In such scenarios, employees are left wondering what happened after the lightening struck. To maintain momentum it is essential to clearly define plans and processes at the outset. There absence leads to disillusionment.
As the budget deadlines approach, it is tempting for managers to become task oriented, coaxing employees to achieve results at any cost. Under such duress, values are compromised, sapping the soul out of the organization; and rendering well-meaning words, hollow. Inconsistent and ineffective execution of vision and plans invariably lead to cynicism and mistrust through the ranks. Platitudes soon become apparent and ‘traditional’ management styles return to haunt us.
Why do vision and mission statements end up being framed and hung on walls meaninglessly? Is it that the employees fail to identify with the organizational vision because of the language used or the way in which it may have been developed or communicated? Could it be that employees quietly resent not having a say in the vision and mission of the organization?
The assumption behind any visioning process is that it provides a sense of direction to the entire enterprise and allows individuals to define their own roles in this larger framework. Vision empowers people if they see a fit between what they do and how it contributes to the larger whole. Vision is not a new idea. We learn from the Bible that people without vision perish.
Old ideas are often presented as new ones through new vocabulary, which serves as garments to describe fundamental management concepts that have served us well for decades. For example, human resource management has replaced personnel management; learning has replaced training. New terminologies have entered the battleground to own traditional ideas. In this debacle the word “vision” has been on the centre stage over the last three decades.
As stated earlier, many organizations take the time to develop vision statements and share them with their people. Leaders end up congratulating themselves on having accomplished a difficult and time-consuming effort and move on to the next task. When this happens, the message and meaning of the vision are soon forgotten.
Leaders need to establish, reinforce and achieve the desired future direction for their organization through formal and informal communications. You may prepare and distribute written statements of vision – but this in itself is never enough. You need to seize the opportunity to articulate your views more informally through casual and frequent discussions down the line.
Although formal and informal communications are the most common vehicles that you use to reinforce vision, these quickly become empty slogans unless they are demonstrated through other means, for example, business decisions you take relating to acquisitions, equipment purchases, hiring, closing of facilities, etc., to bring your vision closer to reality. Rationale behind such decisions needs to be explained on a timely basis.
There are times when circumstances may force you to make decisions that work against the vision and/or other longer-term goals. When this happens, it is important to acknowledge that the decision or action is inconsistent with the vision. By being candid about mistakes builds credibility in the change process. Your challenge is to find ways to overcome obstacles and get back on track.
Day-to-day leadership behaviors communicate seriousness and commitment to vision most effectively. You are on stage 24/7. Those around you gain a clearer understanding of the vision and are inspired into action. A leader with a vision of creating a customer-focused organization, for example, can make or break this vision by how he or she talks about difficult customers or by the amount of time that he or she devotes to customers and front-line people.
Of course, it is difficult to be consistent with the vision on a daily basis. But effective leaders realize, how, what they do and say every day, impacts people throughout the organization. You need to make a concerted effort to bring your behavior into line with your vision and values.
Vision statement will only invite commitment and sustainable effort when it is communicated to enroll the spirit, mind and body of every employee. Unfortunately, vision statements have turned into high sounding language. The meaning of communication is the response you get. If people are not responding, it’s a failure in your communication. Thus the language in which vision is communicated must be simple and should enable people to relate to it directly and meaningfully. The more relevant people find it to their personal lives and values, the more attraction it will hold for them.
In this context, for vision to have a strategic impact, it needs to be clear and compelling. It must have an element of stretch to motivate talent towards creative action. Vision not supported by an army of goals and sub-goals and objectives with clearly assigned responsibilities for achievement throughout the organization is wishful thinking.
Vision that is not translated into clearly defined tasks and activities will remain allusive. This represents the underlying challenge to the new generation of younger, bolder and more forward looking leaders now taking the stewardship of commerce and industry in Pakistan; in fact, the world over. A dynamic vision, communicated in a compelling manner will galvanize the pool of human energy in any organization.
Engaging the heart is dependent on attention to details e.g., efficient information systems, timely two-way feedback, regular monitoring and fine-tuning, intense cross-functional and vertical communication, systematic and consistent structural realignments to changing internal and external realities. In other words, managing the vision means managing the macro and micro processes simultaneously, consistently, and effectively.
The single largest cause of organizational failure is attempting the unrealistic i.e., to change at a rate where the capability present in the organization simply does not match the capability required to manage all the processes needed to bring the vision to fruition. Here, you only need to study inertia when change in individual behavior is examined, what to say of divisional or organizational change.
There is no doubt that growth and change are an organizational reality. While it is necessary to be in tune with change, change must follow a particular syntax. It needs to be paced to conform to the known and expected capability of the organization – the most critical component of which is the capability of its people.
Achieving lasting success is ultimately all about HOW you engage the hearts and minds of your people.
 Proverbs 29:18 (King James Version of the Bible)
 Simon O. Sinek is an author best known for popularizing a concept of The Golden Circle. He joined the RAND Corporation in 2010 as an adjunct staff member, where he advises on matters of military innovation and planning.