It’s a rule well rehearsed in many organisations but if you are not quite there with it yet, here are some guidelines:
1. Make sure it’s over complex: Try to use as much jargon and technobabble as humanly possible
2. Be as boring as possible: A verbal picture is worth a thousand words, so never use metaphor, analogy or example
3. Only ever use a single channel: Keep the message to a single channel, like SMS texting. Be sure to minimise interaction – staff are ineffective at spreading the word
4. State it only once: People aren’t stupid so you only need to tell them once
5. Lead inconsistently: Be careful not to be seen as a swot
6. Leave seeming inconsistencies unaddressed: It’s just better not to go there!
7. Minimise give and take: Avoid two-way communication about the vision. Just present it as an order
OK, so none of us would really subscribe to these guidelines would we? Scan them again asking whether they could (even in part) be leveled at your own organisations communication of the vision. It’s actually not that difficult to find more than a hint of these chocolate teapot practices.
Buy-in from competent people in the business is critical to the successful implementation of any organisational strategy yet John Kotters Harvard research suggests organisations under-communicate the vision by a factor of 10 (or 100 or even 1000!). In practice this means that many people are unable to make the connection between the objectives that they work to and the goals of the organisation. There will often be plenty of activity, lots being done, but organisational success will be more luck than judgement as people do what they think should be done rather than what they are certain must be done.
For many there is no golden thread between the organisations vision, their own functional strategies and objectives that they are working on. If people don’t truly get the vision it’s not their fault. There are a lot of places for the vision to become lost and muddled as it cascades down the organisation, but leaders and managers need to do more in order to facilitate a visible golden thread. The introduction of functional critical success factors can go a long way towards this. Great organisations are good at defining and focusing on what is critical for success. They articulate well the links between the vision and the functional strategy by developing critical success factors that determine individuals objectives.
So let’s have another go at those guidelines by presenting the key elements in the effective communication of vision as suggested by Kotter:
1. Simplicity: All jargon and technobabble must be eliminated
2. Metaphor, analogy, and example: A verbal picture is worth a thousand words
3. Multiple forums: Big meetings and small, emails and newsletters, formal and informal interaction – all are effective for spreading the word
4. Repetition: Ideas sink in deeply only after they have been heard many times
5. Leadership by example: Behaviour from important people that is inconsistent with the vision overwhelms other forms of communication
6. Explanation of seeming inconsistencies: Unaddressed inconsistencies undermine the credibility of all communication
7. Give and take: Two-way communication is always more powerful than one-way communication
You might challenge this idea, but I believe it is almost impossible to over communicate your organisations vision. At least not if you don’t want to pilot a rudderless ship.
Performance Management Rule 1 should simply read: Ensure your people get the vision.