How to weave your employees’ higher vision into successful organizational goals
Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream…” speech in 1963 is the best example I can think of, to describe what a higher vision is and the inner force it can unleash to carry the others with. A vision, in general, encompasses both the power of a mental image of what the future will or could be like (immaterial) and its manifestation to the senses (material). In short, it is a call to action. Once personal vision transcends the level of satisfying personal goals and expands to embrace other-centered values and goals as primary sources of motivation, it becomes a higher vision. In scholarly literature it is often seen as the outcome of calling. The nourishing quality of a higher vision is passion. Passion encompasses free choice, willing engagement, investment of time and energy, belief in its importance and meaningfulness, perseverance and faith in its potential realization. In short, all the qualities needed to ignite and nurture the individual intrinsic motivation mechanism; which Maslow called motivational self-transcendence.
Can you en-vision the outcomes of such a self-sustaining mechanism at work; especially if you take into consideration the fact that according to a Gallup report* 67% of employees are not engaged at work?
Not engaged employees are indifferent to the organization they work. They give their time, but not the best of themselves. The report points out that not engaged employees likely come to work wanting to make a difference - but their intentions are lost on the way with negative effects on the employees’ sense of well-being and the organization’s productivity. On top of that, the Deloitte Millennial Survey 2018** found out that 2/3 of Millennials and Gen Z workforce are not satisfied with their workplace and desire to leave their organizations as they do not value the same priorities. Respondents yearn for leaders whose decisions can benefit the world; who can prove themselves as agents of positive change and not guide their organization only to maximize the bottom line. Within this context, they also perceive their work as meaningful and purposeful - as a means through which they can promote greater good within their community and society at large- as an opportunity to realize their personal higher vision.
Are organizations aware of the above?
Yes, they are. Organizational visions are by definition aspirational and include a prosocial part. Leaders- especially transformational ones- often highlight this impact in order to inspire and motivate employees to transcend their own self-interests for the sake of the organization. However, many times vision statements are so grandiose that are irrelevant or meaningless for the employees. Leaders fail to connect the articulated goals with employees’ values and personal sense of purpose in their day-to-day work.
How can organizations weave the employees’ individual higher vision into the organizational vision?
I reckon three foundational leadership building blocks on which organizational strategies will need to be developed in order to achieve the above goal:
Organizations need to shed their leadership narrative of a “hero leader” - the idealized successful masculine archetype. This is not a stage for one but it is a game of collaboration; more like a gospel choir rather than a soloist. In order for organizations to survive and adapt to a rapidly changing environment in our VolatileUncertainComplexAmbiguous(VUCA) world, they need to approach leadership as a relationship -as a dynamic interaction between a leader and their followers- and recognize their interdependence. Nowadays, the line between both sides has become increasingly blurred. Leaders are increasingly reliant upon the knowledge and expertise of the followers, and the followers are increasingly used as leaders. Also, the complex nature of a task (dependent often on technology and management systems) has reduced most employees’ autonomy. As a result, each individual is just one piece in the organizational goals’ puzzle; unable to complete the specified goal alone but capable of blocking successful implementation of vision and strategies. Hence, vision shaping necessitates a bottom up approach: an inclusion of employees from the earliest, aspiration-setting phases where key goals are identified throughout its whole course. That gives people a clear understanding and a sense of ownership. It also enables companies to determine the timely implementation of its various elements, and the tools to be used to achieve their goals. Essential in this process is that employees are supported with coaching and feedback to realize the vision.
Accountability is the recognition of personal responsibility for one’s choices, decisions, actions and their resulting consequences. An accountable leader takes the responsibility for the outcomes of their action in regard to the impact made upon their employees, their organization and society within the scope of their work role. There can be no accountability without ethical conduct and moral character. The leader’s reputation for integrity and trustworthiness and their consistency between words and deeds has a dramatic impact on the credibility of the vision as its message is not necessarily accepted because it is understood. An accountable leader acts as a role model, as they are perceived by their subordinates to be honest and responsible about their commitment to make a difference. High ethical conduct establishes trustful relationship with their employees and leads to honest and transparent communication. Although employees do not expect leaders to be perfect and have all the answers, they do expect their leaders to be open to the questions. Scholarly research has demonstrated that there is a significant correlation between leader behavior and follower behavior as leadership behavior and traits influences subordinates’ self-concepts (how they see themselves) and values (how they should behave). Accordingly, an accountable leader is an inspiring leader, a role model to follow!
Vision is a conscious choice on what is important. Intent sheds light on the path ahead even if it isn’t clearly visible. It precedes the formulation of the vision in two ways: first, it enables the leader to gain deeper clarity on their own personal truth; and second, it determines the “raison d’etre” of the organization; its mental model that is shared and/or accepted by virtually all the actors involved.
A leader with clear intent takes conscious steps to behave in ways that are consistent and coherent with their personal value system. This is how they build personal integrity, which gives them more strength to remain focused, stable and clear, especially when they are faced with decisions that they must make while enduring adversity or challenges. In their relationship with the others, they first articulate their intentions as precisely as possible in order for the others to be sure what they intend and then they strive for their implementation in collective action. This is what makes them accountable.
An organization that has clarity on its qualities, priorities and values that guide their decisions and remains aligned; i.e. when there are no conflicting intentions- will make better decisions and over time all of those combined decisions will be coherent and form a network of purposeful and aligned choices that ultimately enable discernment. It is obvious that such an organization will have a long-term horizon and a strength-based approach to challenges. As Hamel & Prahalad (1990)* illustrated in an example, the lack of intent of Western companies obliged them to adapt to environmental constraints (competitors’ low cost) by trimming their ambitions to match resources. In the opposite case, if intent was present, they could have riveted their attention on realizing their ambitions by enhancing the value they offered. Intent consistency would have guided resource allocations! In an organization where intent is present, the essential question is not “how will next year be different from this year?” but “What must we do differently next year to get closer to our strategic intent”.
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Gallup Report (2017). State of the Global Workplace Report. https://www.gallup.com/workplace/238079/state-global-workplace-2017.aspx?g_source=link_newsv9&g_campaign=item_224012&g_medium=copy
Deloitte Survey (2018). The Deloitte Millennial Survey 2018. https://www2.deloitte.com/global/en/pages/about-deloitte/articles/millennialsurvey.html
Hamel, G., & Prahalad, C. K. (1990). Strategic intent. Harvard Business Review, 67(3), 63-76.