WHETHER YOU are leading a team or an organisation, success always depends on the efforts of every individual in a group.
Some employees are naturally motivated and will do all they can. Others might prefer to sit back and watch. What needs to be kept in mind, though, is that you cannot force people to be motivated. You can only create a working environment that encourages them to take part fully and maximise their potential. As a leader, you can do this by framing the future.
The best starting point is a vision statement that inspires and guides the team, gives them a sense of purpose and provides them with a context for change. However, unless the vision statement is conveyed correctly, it will be worth little more than the paper it is written on.
This is where inspirational leadership comes in. It is a leader’s job to understand the vision, interpret it for diverse business units and make it relevant and meaningful for every person in the firm.
When doing this, three things must be communicated clearly: the current situation, the intended future position, and the critical success factors and strategic milestones that show how the organisation is going to get there.
The first part of the vision focuses on where you are now. Often, the best way to start is by acknowledging what has been achieved so far. Do not do this in the style of an Oscar winner’s speech, listing names and contributions, but do take the time to highlight notable achievements. Too many companies think only of pushing their employees to climb to the top of the next mountain. They forget to give credit for a job well done or to celebrate past and present successes.
Also, when describing the situation, you should take care to pre-empt likely negative comments or possible adverse reactions from the team. If you know there is discontent over a recent management decision, such as relocating the office, acknowledge that concern. If last year’s financial performance missed targets, resulting in lower-than-expected bonuses, do not gloss over the situation. Take up and explain the issue so that your team knows how things stand.
If your intention is to inspire and take the audience on a journey, you first have to prove that you understand everything about the business as it is today.
An effective vision must be based on reality. It is no use pretending that things are going well if they are not, since people will soon see through that. You can, though, win a team over by being open and challenging them to improve.
The second part of any inspirational message should describe the desired future position. It should outline where you want to be and the actions required to get there.
When talking about this part, give a clear time frame for the key points. This does not have to be precise but should indicate short- and long-term priorities. This way the objectives become more tangible for the team and come into focus more easily.
When you speak, include rational and emotional concepts to describe the future. Rational details might include the size of the organisation, sales growth, financial results or the number of countries in which the company operates.
On the emotional side, you should take into account people’s feelings, attitudes and their sense of accomplishment. You might also choose to emphasise the value of teamwork or the positive impact one can make on the community by operating more effectively. Different examples will serve the same purpose, provided your message touches the hearts and minds of the audience.
To create an inspiring vision of the future, you need to be able to answer the question “so what?”. It may be unspoken, but that is what people will be asking. They will want to know what your ideas mean for them and why they should join you on the journey.
Anticipate such questions by offering examples of tangible outcomes. You might refer to improved service quality, better systems or more opportunities for promotion. Just make sure there is something for each individual. Use vivid descriptions to explain what success will mean and, if possible, appeal to the senses and the instincts of people.
The final part of your message should broadly cover the methods for achieving the stated vision. This should give a reasonable insight into the strategies you plan to use for moving the business in the intended direction.
The degree of detail will depend on the audience. If the team you are talking to will be accountable for executing the strategy, explain the core actions, critical success factors, achievement points and target dates. It is up to you to convince them that the plan will work. If you cannot do that at the outset, then you might as well go back to the drawing board.
Also, make sure you have considered all the departments or individuals who will be involved at various stages. The number of stakeholders is often much larger than expected. For instance, it may extend beyond employees and customers to shareholders, regulatory authorities and financial analysts. A farsighted vision is likely to have far-reaching consequences, which makes it vital to think through all the implications.
The structure required when communicating a typical inspirational message usually takes care of itself. Such speeches automatically fit into the standard beginning, middle and end format.
For a leader, framing a visionary message is often one of the first concrete steps towards creating the right working environment and having a motivated team. Remember that if you do not develop this vision, someone else will. This could be a major rival, a start-up, or a company in a different industry. Employees are always listening, comparing and waiting to be inspired.
Therefore, take control by formulating a vision and communicating it in a way that creates a personal connection. In the end, it is your responsibility to make sure that employees are talking about what your company is doing, not what the competition is up to.
TIPS TO WIN
Check your message
Before talking about your vision in public, take plenty of time to review the main themes. Take a critical approach, and ask yourself whether the main message is understandable and inspirational. If you are outlining long-term objectives, make sure people can see what is required of them and how they fit into the overall picture. It always helps to have a specific audience in mind as you decide how best to explain things. This will remind you to adopt the right tone and give relevant information. Each group has different needs, values and motivations. So ensure that the message has both rational and emotional elements. Some people will respond best to hard facts; others will want to hear about the softer things. A vision statement should have both these elements.
You normally get just one chance to deliver a truly visionary or inspirational message. So there is a lot at stake to get it right the first time. Allow adequate time for research, planning and practice, and keep reminding yourself of the key steps. The first is to understand your audience and to know what they expect, want or need to hear. Then clarify your objective, select a key message which is inspiring and persuasive, and structure your planned comments. As things start to take shape, collect evidence to support your vision and, if necessary, give examples to strengthen your case. The best speakers have the ability to create compelling metaphors or analogies, so consider what will attract and retain the audience’s attention. Finally, examine your vision from every possible angle, and keep rehearsing until you are completely confident. Never make the mistake of thinking you can just wing it.
Know when to email
Regardless of how you feel about it, email is here to stay. However, just because it is part of our business culture, you should not assume it is the preferred channel of communication. When sharing your vision, start by disseminating information face-to-face, and then follow up by email. If you have a complex message to deliver, organise a meeting, then provide more details by email. Electronic communication can save you time and make you more productive, but it can also cause great embarrassment. Before sending out your next email, think about the careers that could be lost or reputations that could be damaged if the mail was addressed to the wrong person or contained sensitive information. Use email, but do not let it be your primary channel.