Creating a Vision: A Key Component of Leadership

For a long time, leaders were trying to crack the code about what truly motivates employees. After all, motivated team members are a key piece of building internal and external loyalty as well as achieving profitability. Fortunately, motivation is no longer a secret. The key? Making  employees feel that their work has meaning and contributes to a larger vision. 

Even though we know this is what it takes, though, many businesses are still not applying the knowledge. In his book “Drive,” Daniel Pink says that traditional reward and punishment practices do more harm than good, while connecting people to a purpose or a vision can be a powerful intrinsic motivator. At MFI, we couldn’t agree more. To accomplish your business goals, you must create a vision and then engage your employees around it. 

Defining a Vision

A vision is an aspirational direction or an intention that would take more than one lifetime to achieve. It’s a battle cry. The reason to get up and go to work. The “why” of what we do. For example, Goodwill of Central and Northern AZ’s vision is to “End poverty in Arizona;” Harvard University’s vision is “To develop leaders who will one day make a global difference.” And Disney’s is “To make people happy.” These are clear, simple statements that pack a lot of power.  

The Challenge

Managers and leaders must get team members excited about fulfilling the vision, but their approaches and priorities differ. Managers focus on directing and controlling work processes, while leaders prioritize inspiring and motivating employees to pursue a compelling vision. The challenge is that managers are expected to create results. However, developing and inspiring employees to a shared vision is a process. Therefore, with incentives and metrics focused on results, managers often don’t have the time or incentive to help inspire others to a vision. 

Connecting Employees to a Company Vision

As the saying goes, one person’s garbage is another person’s treasure. Likewise, a vision that inspires a senior leader may be boring to an employee. It is a common mistake to try and cascade or push down a vision from senior leaders to front-line employees and expect buy-in. 

Nitin Nohria states that 70% of all change initiatives fail, including those that are intended to engage employees in a new vision, because culture, values and processes should be adopted from the bottom up, not the top down. Employees need to help create the vision. They also need to be given a method to articulate their personal visions and connect them to the company vision.  

The Right Way to Set a Vision

In our work with clients over the last 30 years, we’ve found vision statements that motivate, align and create company loyalty follow these steps:

  1. Employees are asked to create a vision statement beyond their career goals. These statements touch at the very heart of a person’s purpose, beliefs and aspirations for how they want to change the world.
  2. Themes emerging from personal vision statements are rolled up to senior staff and others, setting the company’s direction. 
  3. Vision statement themes are summarized into a single company vision statement and are used as the North Star for strategic planning, branding, succession planning and onboarding new employees.

Since the first computer was placed on an employee’s desk in the ‘60s, employees were needed for their minds and ideas, not just their might and piecemeal tasks. Lately, the pendulum of power has moved even more toward employees since they have more choices brought forth by hybrid work practices, increased job openings and the prioritization of fairness & inclusion. 

When all is said and done, purpose is the new currency of business. Setting and getting buy-in for a compelling vision that looks out 50-100 years ahead – and expresses the heartfelt beliefs of its employees – is the new way to survive and thrive in a dynamic and disruptive world.