Knowing where you are going as a company, and having a simple, clear, exciting vision that you can communicate well to your employees can improve performance dramatically. So why doesn’t it work more often?
The key to having a powerful vision is to be consistent across all aspects of your corporate behavior. If you want people to care, they have to feel that they are caring about something that matters up and down the company.
Take, for example, the recent debacle at Lowe’s. As several articles in the NY Times discussed, Lowe’s decided to fund a reality show called “All-American Muslim.” This show committed the unforgivable sin of revealing that Muslim Americans are much like every other American as opposed to being terrorists. In response to complaints from one group, Lowe’s then pulled out of the show, triggering a great deal more complaints, this time from almost everyone else.
Now, Lowe’s might claim to support diversity and oppose racism, as quoted in another Times article: “In a statement on its Facebook page, Lowe’s said it had ‘a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion’ but had pulled its spots from the show because it ‘became a lightning rod’ for’individuals and groups’ with ‘strong political and social views.’ ”
In other words, it appears that Lowe’s feels strongly about supporting anything that no one argues with. Unfortunately, this does not exactly send a message about strong commitment to your own values. One has to wonder how an employee at Lowe’s will feel about the corporate vision going forward from here.
By comparison, let’s look at the employees of the Taj Hotel in Mumbai. As discussed in a recent news story, when gunman attacked the city three years ago, employees risked their own lives to protect guests at the hotel. This can be directly attributed to the Taj’s consistent vision of providing outstanding customer service no matter what, a vision that is carried out at all levels of the organization and reinforced at every opportunity.
As I discuss in my book, “The 36-Hour Course in Organizational Development,” a vision needs to answer some key questions, including:
- “Where are we going?”
- “Why do we care?”
- “Why does anyone else care?”
- How will the world change, even a little, if we accomplish our vision?”
These are all important and necessary questions to address, but they are not sufficient to make your vision work. You also have to believe in the vision, and you have to demonstrate that you will stand up for what you believe in. Otherwise, you shouldn’t waste your time with a vision: you’re better off not standing for anything at all than demonstrating that you won’t stand up for what you claim to care about.