One of the biggest mistakes leaders make is thinking they are supposed to have all the answers, especially when it comes to vision. There is a natural desire to look like you are smart and know what you’re doing.
But sometimes the smartest thing you can do is to involve your team in creating vision and strategy and invite them to think together about the future. You don’t need to have it all figured out before you talk about it. In fact, it’s better if you don’t.
Steve Piersanti, President of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, a company that has continued to thrive year after year in an industry that is facing serious challenges and named Indie Publishing Company of the Year in 2015, says:
We involve our entire company—including all staff and our key outside stakeholders (customers, sales partners, shareholders, service providers, and so on)—in setting our strategic directions, articulating our vision and values, and other foundational decisions. We do this through large and small participative meetings, surveys, online and in-person discussions, and other means. This is a lot of work and takes longer but it results in better decisions, more buy-in, and better implementation and execution.
You might be concerned about losing credibility if it looks like you don’t have the answers. But the truth is, you gain credibility, AND, as Steve Piersanti points out, you will have a stronger, more viable vision and more effective implementation.
Eight Guidelines to Involve Your Team in Creating Vision and Strategy
- Don’t wait to figure it all out before you share your ideas. If you have a good sense of what’s important and why, before you figure it all out, talk about it with your team. Don’t try to sell your ideas. Talk about what honestly excites you. Your vision will become clearer for you and others will begin to think about their own ideas and hopes.
- Create opportunities for discussions. Discuss it with your team informally. But also put the topic on a meeting agenda and devote an extended amount of time for it. This is an opportunity to step back and think together. Encourage your team to look beyond the scope of their individual roles and responsibilities and to consider the big picture.
- Instead of giving answers, ask questions. Ask clarifying questions to make sure you really understand what people are saying. Ask focusing questions such as: What do they think is the purpose? What values do they believe should guide behaviors? What would be happening if the team were magnificent? Point out the commonalities so people are aware of how their ideas and hopes resonate with each other.
- Examine your own behavior. As you become clear about your vision, you must act consistently with it. If you want people to believe you are serious, you must be conscious of all your actions great and small. People pay more attention to what they see you do than to what you say. And by modeling the vision, you are demonstrating what it looks like in real life.
- Recognize you do not own the vision. If you want a shared vision, others must feel they have participated in shaping it. You can and should care deeply, but quite likely they will have a perspective that will enrich the vision and make it stronger.
- Publish your vision but don’t cast it in stone. With input from everyone on your team, develop and publish a vision statement. This should be a living document. Visions are not static; they evolve. As you accomplish goals and get closer to realizing your vision, it will become clearer. The essence of it will not change, but you may find new elements and others may gain more depth. Revisit it once or twice a year, and fine-tune the wording if needed.
- Use your vision to make important decisions. Your vision should provide guidance for action and important decisions. If it doesn’t, it’s time to revisit your vision to check its relevance. Don’t make your vision a one-time activity or it will end up framed and forgotten.
- Be accountable for behaving consistently with the vision. If you ignore the behavior of people who act inconsistently with the vision, you threaten the trust and commitment of those who are behaving consistently with it. Accountability does not mean finger-pointing and accusations. It means having frank and open conversations. It means learning together from mistakes. It means helping each other stay on track by celebrating “wins” and catching each other doing things right.