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Communicating Organizational Vision

There are two things to remember when trying to communicate an organizational vision to your team. First, you have to target your message. Your team in IT has different needs than Susan’s team in marketing. Leaders are responsible for translating the same vision into different messages that their unique teams will respond to. Second, augment logical reasoning with an emotional appeal to inspire. That’s how you get buy-in, and how you shift the team’s response from “I have to,” to “I want to.”

We’ve developed a communication approach that breaks this down into four key components to be addressed: listeners, point of view, actions, and benefits:

Understand your listeners. Step back and think about your team. Sure, you know the player roster well, but attitudes change over time (e.g., from the beginning of a project to the end). Before you start on the vision, take a few minutes to answer the following questions about your team:

What do they know about the current status of your project or goal or bigger strategy? What are they expecting? How do they feel about the team and organization right now? How would they challenge the vision? What would make them resistant? How can I help them? What problems am I trying to solve that will make their lives better in some way?

Find the lede of your story. With the broader vision in mind, it’s time to develop the specific point of view for your team. Think of this as the why behind the message. What is the one thing that you want everyone to walk away knowing? (Warning: Don’t get too granular or tactical. You’re looking for a motivator—some way to get the team to nod their heads and accept the change.) For Amit’s team, he couldn’t default to something as narrow as, “We need to negotiate new contracts for the new changes to our product.” Yes, that was a key element (and it needed motivation!), but that wasn’t an inspiring vision. Instead, he had to make it bigger. “Our current product faced a massive risk of being commoditized. Our products have never been commodities! We must always position ourselves as the leader in this space.”

Point the way. After you have developed your point of view, it’s time to zero in on your next challenge: converting vision into action—or pointing your team toward the right direction so they can make something happen. You don’t have to lay out every step that leads to your ultimate goal, but you have to be specific and set benchmarks and deadlines. Action steps have to be physical, timed, and measurable to pave a way toward the vision that the team can actually see. For instance, Amit’s team had much work to complete over the next quarter. To get them started on renegotiating the contracts immediately, he asked each of them to schedule meetings with three key stakeholders by the end of the week.

Give them a reason to believe. Your message also has to address what’s in it for them—each of them. Too often we provide a laundry list of general benefits that are far too removed to really motivate anyone. Better ROI, increased top-line growth, and greater customer satisfaction are all great for the organization … they just don’t mean that much to us as individuals. Team leaders have to drive the benefit down to the individual level as much as possible. The best way to do this is to connect the dots. Go back to how you described your team. Amit could appeal to his team’s pride in leading the industry, or the accolades they would add to their professional trophy cases: “Look at what you’ll create.” This individual focus engages people’s emotions and moves them to action. After all, logic makes us think, emotion drives us to act.

As a team leader, you’re not always the one to set the grand overarching vision, but your role – communicating it and casting it in a way that motivates your team – is essential. Getting your team to see how their work matters on an organizational level will keep them motivated and productive—especially during times of change. It will also reflect well on you as their manager. That’s the value of the vision.