A lot of companies do the vision exercise, tell everyone about it, and then return to their old ways. Talk vision and values, and eyes begin to glaze over. There have been too many expensive exercises making little tangible difference for the topic to be taken seriously. Yet a positive and exciting picture of the future gives people something to get out of bed for. Without it, life is what we do when we have finished work.
Passion and heart are words not often used in business, but this is what has driven excellent businesses since time immemorial. Great innovators, inventors, entrepreneurs are driven by their passion for a product, money, a service, or success itself. All business has been started by one or two people on a mission. There are endless stories of entrepreneurs who ended up running big businesses - Hewlett and Packard, Bill Gates, Richard Branson were all driven by passion and dogged determination.
The start-up of a new idea or business needs high energy, bloody- mindedness and the ability to keep going in tough times. It needs more than one person to have the passion. And as long as someone is positive and solid, it is possible to overcome the down times and keep going. This happens most easily when the business is small because people are influenced by the passion of the originator/idea, especially if the leader is charismatic and dynamic. In fact, it is so exciting that it can be hard to stay away.
This is a long way from the big blue-chip and public sector companies of today. But the basis is the same. Everyone needs to be touched by the passion - in fact, it is even more important at this level. At the beginning, work is exciting by virtue of its newness. Once the business is bedded in and running on rails, it can become humdrum. The excited leader has disappeared into the top office, to be seen only by the loyal few, and ‘business as usual' is firmly planted. But it was passion that got this machine up and running, that made it exciting enough to work really hard. And it is passion that must keep it going.
An inspiring vision engenders this level of passion, and talking about it regularly keeps it fresh and new. This is a communication job for every manager. Think of yourself as an entrepreneur. If you do not inspire people to do a good job, who will? The work has to tap their excitement, has to get them thinking of new ideas, noticing how other companies work, feeling proud of what they do. Once you have this level of commitment, they will go to bed at night satisfied, believing in themselves and their work. And they will give the customers and company a really good deal.
Enthusiastic people activate an inspiring vision - but only if they have regular encouragement. The vision must be restated, consistently reminding people why they are doing the work, why it matters to the company, customers and themselves, and to stimulate new ideas. A concept is alive only when people truly want to play their part.
It was Jack Welch who said that unless he spoke about the vision each day, he was not doing his job. Placing daily tasks in the context of the bigger picture is an effective way of validating what people do. This is how you move from bricklaying to building a cathedral.
The story of the person who described a wide, grey, scaly column without realising he was looking at the leg of an elephant is a wonderful way of describing most people's working day. They concentrate on the task at hand and ensure that they meet deadlines without seeing what they do as an integral part of the puzzle. Vision builds the big picture, encourages the heart and takes people forward to a more meaningful sense of their work.