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Change Leadership: Creating the Vision

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In an earlier post, I introduced the topic of change leadership  and how it differs from normal, everyday leadership. Let’s take a deeper dive into creating the vision.

All too often, even in companies where the vision is fairly well articulated, it doesn’t always hold tight in a roomful of leaders when we start to examine the components of the vision. If they don’t buy it or don’t think it’s necessary or possible to achieve, then you might as well stop what you’re doing. It must pass the sniff test as well as withstand the almighty WIIFM (What’s in it for me?).

Understanding and Communicating the Vision for Change

The first step is to understand the vision, which is often straightforward and in the form of a goal or objective. The clearer the better, such as:

  • We’re going to improve our margins (okay, but vague)
  • We’re going to double our market share (better, but also open to interpretation)
  • We’re going to double revenues within five years (very specific)
Once you’ve articulated a clear vision, you start talking about strategy. How are you going to realize the vision and achieve the goals you’ve set? Do your processes and systems need to be modified to begin your quest? Do you have the right talent to help you get there? Do your marketing and segmentation strategies need to shift?

But we’re not done with strategy yet. You can’t announce the vision and strategies that will get you there before you test and challenge them. Rest assured that you have armchair quarterbacks who will dissect and be critical of your every move and decision. And if it’s faulty, out-of-touch with front-line reality, or otherwise less than perfect, then you’ll not get their support.

Therefore, the next step is to break down the elements of the strategies to determine what needs to change — and be able to answer why it’s necessary to change. For example, in order to have an effective talent strategy or to successfully embed different behaviors into the company, you’ve got to assess and develop your talent. Do you need to adapt your current talent strategy to help attain the new goals? Do you need to increase hiring or hire a different type of person? Then, look at sales management processes and so forth throughout the organization.

The key is to build a story that supports the change. It will become your elevator pitch. It will help you and your change leaders to define, celebrate, and defend the change. If someone says, “I’m headed to the training class, but I don’t know why,” you’d be able to tell your story: here’s the vision, here are the strategies that our company’s put in place; this training will help us to achieve the strategy and fulfill the vision. In order for those strategies to work, we’ve got to develop our people, put metrics into place, and change employees’ behaviors and attitudes. There’s a reason that the phrase “winning hearts and minds” is so prevalent.

We work with clients to help them to isolate the top two or three key strategies that will effectively help the company to achieve the vision. We then look for ways to help bake that into the training programs we devise for them.

As a leader in the company, I should be able to tell you exactly what my role in driving that change is. I’m going to hold my staff accountable (how?), I’m going to make sure that we debrief after the training, I’m going to make sure that we put reliable metrics in place, and I’m going to make sure that we drive this behavior change and reinforce it. But you also have to set expectations at the individual contributor level. I’m going to also ask you as an individual contributor to do certain things so that you stay engaged in the training. I want you to do the prework. I want you to come back to the office and debrief with me. I’m going to go on calls with you to coach you and look for you to exhibit these behaviors, to try something new.

Now that you have an articulate vision and compelling story, you can begin to share it with every leader in the organization and help them to understand and be able to tell it in their own words. For example, when you host a training session with 60 regional executives, each one of them should leave being able to tell the story not from a script, but from the heart. This internalization drives a different kind of thinking and, once they “get” it, the relentlessness of the change. This change initiative won’t go away if the leadership team knows the story and repeats it throughout the organization. Once people hear it on a regular basis, they’re going to know it themselves. That repetitive relentlessness is the goal.

This is the start of a powerful sea of change.

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