High in the Arctic, the Inuksuk is a timeless cultural symbol of the human journey. The Inuit stack rough stones in human form, traditionally as communal landmarks, cairns, or commemorations. They mark their way in a desolate territory without natural landmarks.
Far from Canada’s North, the world is teetering on the brink of dystopia. The risks of “man’s inhumanity to man” lurk in the shadows of the politics of fear and division. People are distracted increasingly by rhetoric, hyperbole, and illusion. They lose focus on what matters and on doing the right thing. Progress suffers when we start to savour the results before completing the mission.
Business Week attributes 30 per cent higher return for companies with a shared vision that explains why they exist and where they are going. Commitment and credibility soar when leaders and employees alike engage in crafting and validating strategic initiatives. The more people focus on specific initiatives, the better they envision a desired future.
Organizations that form a shared vision know better how to act on it. They ask: Where are people aligned around inspiring ideas? Do they speak about the goals in the same way with the same priority? How is the vision shared?
Most organizations strive to connect people with their strategy. Sometimes, people are not engaging or do not own it. The challenge is to get senior management to think and communicate differently about their organization’s “North Star.” A big opportunity can be a compelling, aspirational catalyst for the team to declare what it wants to achieve.
The collective outcome can be so much more than a vision or mission statement. It can engender extraordinary ownership and commitment to change. The strategy clarifies how the future will be different from the past and how initiatives linked directly to the vision can make that future a reality.
The leader’s job is to give strategic direction, whether in a vision, mission, or objectives. A new vision can evoke emotional intelligence that culminates in transformation. The real power is unleashed when those involved share a common understanding of the goals and direction.
Communicating the new vision effectively means:
- Keeping it simple. Useful messages are accessible, received, and understood.
- Trying multiple channels. Spreading the word relies upon using common forums and technologies.
- Practicing repetition. Ideas sink in deeply after being communicated creatively many times.
- Leading by example. Credible behaviours and decisions are consistent with the vision.
How can public institutions succeed in implementing strategic initiatives, and how can middle managers contribute? First, purposeful, coordinated execution is about aligning strategy with opportunity. Managers ask: What could go better than expected? What could cause it to occur? What are the probable and potential benefits?
Alignment offers a window on a realistic, compelling, memorable future. Dr. John Kotter states: “The kind of pioneers who create these systems begin by developing not just a powerful sense of strategic urgency among large numbers of people, but a force for change that aligns people’s feelings, thoughts, and actions.”
Second, purposeful, coordinated execution is about creating a strategic vision. The change vision must reflect and capitalize on the opportunity at hand. Underestimating what is at stake is incredibly common. Not knowing the consequences of success or failure affects the outcome.
Third, purposeful, coordinated execution is about designing and implementing strategic initiatives. The vision is realized when managers promote the probability and exploit the effects of potential opportunities. This may call for unprecedented or innovative strategies that enlist volunteers, remove barriers, accelerate results, or institutionalize change.
Engaging public organizations in visioning that elevates results is not easy. Middle managers must consider how to manage their team’s priorities and culture throughout the change. It starts by interconnecting teams with common goals, quality, and vision. This means regularly measuring employee engagement in terms of recognition, trust, communication, and empowerment.
Teams also need to know how change will impact the value of their work. They must be delegated energizing projects that tap their innovative potential to co-develop better ways to deliver. And they need to mesh as a team before they can integrate with others. The more cohesive they are, the more their strengths leverage the vision and new results.
John Wilkins is Executive in Residence: Public Management at York University. He was a career public servant and diplomat. (firstname.lastname@example.org).