Recently, I was debriefing a client on a leadership program I had just conducted and we were discussing some follow-up coaching. I assured the President that I would ensure that everyone aligns with the vision of the organization, to which he replied, “Oh we have lots of visions here.” At first, I thought he was being facetious, unfortunately, he was being serious. Even scarier, he thinks it a good thing for everyone to have different visions. Going forward, to say I have my work cut out for me is an understatement.
In start-up companies, it is common for a great deal of energy to come from the CEO’s vision for the organization. Everyone pitches in and does whatever it takes to get a product out the door and delver outstanding customer service. In these early stages of growth, the CEO’s vision and energy keep the company on a path for growth. However, the focus is different in larger and more mature organizations.
As a company moves beyond the business leader’s span of control, communications become more difficult. This is particularly true if systems are not in place that help drive how work is accomplished. The job of the CEO now becomes one of managing the people and setting a clear picture of the future.
In church, the music minister will say, “Everyone turn to page 128 in their hymnals and lets sing (insert the name of your favorite song here.)” Suddenly, the entire congregation is on the same page, singing the same song and is doing it in harmony. How often does this occur in your organization? The ability of the CEO to refocus the company on what they are there to do and recognize the shift from the company being CEO-focused to enterprise-focused is critical. A study by Bain and Company indicated the organizations that have clearly defined vision and mission statements that are aligned with a strategic plan outperform those who do not. To ensure your organization is on the right track, consider the following questions:
- Is there a strong vision and mission written down?
- Have core values been identified?
- Does the leadership of the company “walk the talk?”
- Are managers conducting regular one-on-ones with their direct reports?
- Do employees have a say in how solving problems?
To help ensure that everyone on your staff is on the right page is to revisit your vision, mission and core values. If they are not clearly defined, or if they no longer resonate with the organization, revise them. Let’s look at vision and mission statements and core values.
A vision statement answers the question “Why are we here?” It communicates both the purpose and future of the organization. It should inspire employees to give their best and shape their understanding of why the company does what it does. The vision should remain intact regardless of market changes, as it speaks to what the organization represents, not just what it does.
A mission statement answers the question “What do we do?” It talks about how you will get to where you want to be. It defines the primary objectives of the company and refers to the present leading to the future. It should list the broad goals for the organization. It is more changeable than the vision, as the mission’s focus is on the shorter term, big-picture objective of the organization.
Core values are the few essential tenets that are non-negotiable within the organization. They should be timeless and unchanging and help to define the culture of the organization. They should define what drives employee priorities and how they should act in the organization. They should drive the intent and direction for the organizational plans.
In order for the CEO to get all of the employees on the same page and to work in productive harmony requires knowing the answers to the following questions:
- How do you plan to communicate your mission, vision and core values to your staff?
- What will the benefits be once every employee understands these concepts?
- How can you encourage staff to provide feedback about the mission, vision and core values?
- How can you encourage staff to walk the talk of the mission, vision and core values?
As a CEO, take time to meet individually with each employee in your growing company. Find out the answers to the following questions:
- Ask why they like working for the company.
- Ask them how they feel about the work you are doing.
- Ask them what opportunities they see for themselves at your company.
- Ask them what changes they would make to keep the company the kind of company for which they would want to work.
Listen and listen well, for in the dialogue with you at this opportune moment, you will gain valuable knowledge that will serve you well today and into the future. This isn’t just a one-sided conversation. As the CEO, let your employees know:
- What worries you
- What makes you proud
- The changes you feel the company will have to make to remain successful
- Give them your vision, talk about the mission and restate your core values.
It’s OK to let them know that you don’t have all the answers and that you are doing your best to adapt to the changes facing the company today as well as in the near future. If you are the CEO of a larger company, then conduct this same exercise having your managers meet and ask these same questions. Then have those managers report their results in a management team meeting. Help your managers learn the power of listening and creating staff buy-in by being transparent and authentic. If you want to garner staff-buy-in from the people whom you believe can help you build a successful company, take the time to do this exercise and do it today. Waiting for the most opportune time will lead to failure. The perfect moment will never arrive.