A CEO’s View of Top 5 Engagement Drivers Part 1: Vision

“I seek not to know the answers, but to understand the questions.” Kwai Chang Caine, “Kung Fu”

When I talk to CEO’s about the top drivers of engagement in their company there are often similar results that pop up. Lets take a look at the top 5 drivers of engagement for 2012 and ask ourselves what does that actually mean?

Engagement driver #1: The leaders at my company have communicated a vision that motivates me.

If only 60% of your people agree that “you have communicated a vision that motivates them” what do you need to change?

The first place to look is to ask, have you communicated a vision at all? For all the intense debate about what next years sales budget should be people want to know where they are going. What are we moving towards? And, why? There are literally entire libraries written on the importance of vision in building successful companies but one of the metaphors that I like the most is that a great vision creates a palpable tension between the current reality and the desired state – and that tension is what drives you to push, compete and innovate your way to your goal.

Unfortunately for some companies the problem is just that. They have no vision. They are so caught up in the day to day they don’t know where they are going. A lot can be accomplished by being clear about what that vision is so that people can decide if it’s something they are passionate enough about to be truly engaged.

In my experience however, the problem is usually not that the leaders have not communicated a vision. Anyone who has done any leadership training will be well versed in BHAG’s, north star’s, people on the bus and a thousand and one other metaphors for telling people where we are headed. The bigger problem is that the vision that they are trumpeting from the roof tops is not motivating to an individual that works with them.

This is a problem of translation.

Many visions are couched in terms of some future target. Become the market leader in X, achieve $100M in revenue, be the biggest, be the fastest etc. Financial goals are a particular favourite for CEOs because so much of their perceived success hinges on them. The problem is that once you have 6 or 7 zero’s how much more meaningful does each zero really become? Do we really care if we make $120M in revenue vs $118M? Or if return to shareholders is 12.5% rather than 11.75%? We struggle to relate to visions built around those types of goals because they have nothing to do with our day to day reality.

Where I have seen CEOs succeed is when they have been able to translate their vision into something that is actually meaningful and motivating to the individual. As an example I was talking to the CEO of a regional business that supplied farm equipment. Their vision was to be the leading provider of tractors etc. in their part of the world. I asked him to tell me a bit more about his business and what the people who worked for him really cared about. What became immediately obvious was that they were not only the leading provider of tractors – they were the leading employer in a shrinking regional economy.

What drove the people that worked in his company was the thought that if they were successful there would be a job for their son and/or daughter and they wouldn’t have to move away to look for work. As soon as he finished explaining that to me I could see the light go off in his head as he realised that his vision was to succeed so that he could create jobs in his local economy. As soon as he made that distinction exactly the same vision was translated into a much more meaningful expression to his people – one where every step forward was something to be celebrated and desired by all.

So if you are not sure if your vision is motivating to your staff ask yourself a question… rather than achieving some future position in the market or some larger number of zeroes, what could you achieve at some point in the future that would make a real and meaningful difference to the lives of the people you work with, or to the world? Often you will find that the vision you already had is much the same, but the language and the expression is now much more effective at translating that vision into something motivating.

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