“Our company had a big meeting a few weeks ago where the president laid out his vision. It means big changes and a lot of us were skeptical about it. But I have to say that by the end of his presentation, he had us all sold. It was pretty impressive.”
Frank had introduced himself during a break at a conference where I was speaking last week.
“Very impressive,” I responded. “What’s going to happen next?”
“I’m in charge of the eastern sales force. Part of the vision requires moving our sales force away from the corporate headquarters and closer to the properties we own so they can be close to our customer base. We have major properties in eight cities in my region, so my sales folks will relocate there.”
Frank was telling me what his people were going to be doing, not what he was going to do. It occurred to me the company might be in trouble unless their next step was helping Frank and his peers understand the important role they need to play.
One of the top reasons leaders fail to implement their vision is because they don’t manage the “mid-space.”
The biggest failure in implementing vision successfully is in not effectively managing the airspace between the 3000 ft view from the hot air balloon and the on-the-ground view of day-to-day activity.
The view on the ground looks quite different than it does when you’re way up high. The “mid-space” view translates the high level concept into practical action.
The Critical Role of Middle Management
Too often organizations don’t properly equip middle management to fulfill their role as a conduit between the front-line and senior management.
Frank has a major responsible for the mid-space – connecting the people on the ground with the vision so they understand their role and how they contribute to the vision. It’s up to him to help his people understand the implications of the vision on a day-by-day basis.
A charismatic sell, like the president’s, isn’t going to work for Frank, nor would it the best approach, even if he were oozing with charisma. Frank needs to engage in conversation with his people, not “sell” them.
Jumping From “Selling” to “Doing.”
A chief reason for failure in vision implementation is the bias in jumping from “selling” to “doing.” The mid-space requires involving.
To successfully navigate the mid-space, people need time to reflect on the meaning of the vision, the implications for themselves and their work, and to have an opportunity to give input into the vision itself.
When you involve people in creating the vision, they have a deeper understanding of what it really means and they become more committed to it because they see their contribution. And because they see the organization from a different perspective, they are likely to have ideas that will make the vision even stronger.
Leaders at all levels need to take responsibility to manage the “mid-space.”
Seven ways leaders at all levels connect the mid-space.
- Get your people’s recommendations on things that need to be considered, tweeked or modified in the vision and communicate that upward and with your peers.
- Hold conversations with your people on how to best implement. How will their daily activities need to change? What are their priorities? Help them remember the big picture and see how it translates to their work. If what they are doing does not support the vision, that activity should be modified or eliminated.
- Meet with your people frequently. It takes awhile for the vision to be embedded into daily life. Meanwhile, to help them stay on track, it is important to stay connected to help them set goals that are aligned with the vision, to track progress and help them problem-solve.
- Serve as an early-warning detector for organizational implementation issues. If you notice patterns occurring, check it out with your peers. For example, it may be that senior leaders are moving too quickly before the organization is prepared to support the change or an aspect of one of the overall implementation strategies might need to be changed.
- Find out what obstacles are likely to get in the way of your people being able to successfully implement. And then work with your peer team and senior leaders to remove them.
- Find out what resources your people will need, what new skills they might need to learn, and provide support so they can move forward as smoothly and easily as possible.
- Listen to their concerns as they figure out their own solutions. Be available just to listen, because change can be hard even when we are committed to it, and sometimes we just need to know someone understands and cares.