OP-ED: Firms must encourage employees to instinctively apply corporate vision

Though it's been almost 150 years since Alice in Wonderland was penned, today's corporate world could learn a lot from Alice's adventures.

Though it's been almost 150 years since Alice in Wonderland was penned, today's corporate world could learn a lot from Alice's adventures.

Alice asked, "Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to walk from here?" "That depends a good deal on where you want to walk," responded the cat. "I don't much care where," said Alice. "Then it doesn't matter which way you walk," answered the cat. "So long as I get somewhere," Alice added as an explanation. "Oh, you're sure to do that," said the cat. "If you only walk long enough!" Like Alice, people and companies will always get somewhere if they just walk (or work) long enough. The question is: Who or what defines the destination? Or to use corporate speak: Who defines the vision? It's hoped, usually, that a corporation's leadership defines it. But there is a challenge in getting a vision understood by all. The Gartner Group reports that only 5% of the average workforce understands the company's vision and strategy. Communicators responsible for translating the CEO's vision to thousands of employees have long understood the difficulty of bringing people into alignment with the corporate vision. It's more critical than ever in today's business environment that the internal brand lives in alignment with the external one. It is obvious that a critical factor in aligning internal and external brands is that the front line, which interfaces with the customer, understands the vision. Under today's business conditions, there's usually no time for head scratching, referring to the corporate manual, or for approvals up the line. The workforce is most often operating on instinct, which might or might not agree with the corporate vision. The key question is: Is that instinct in alignment with the company vision? Firms need to develop "workforce instinct," a state where employees can operate in alignment with that vision. Business is largely an intellectual exercise, but the trick to developing workforce instinct is to first translate that intellectually developed vision into a gut- level, visceral experience for the entire staff. When people try to memorize the script, they forget the lines. But when people know the vision in their gut, they make right decisions under pressure. Advertisers have known the importance of communicating to the heart and gut for years. Cars aren't sold on the technical specs of the engine alone but on the feeling of driving on an open road, or on some other emotional branding connection made with the customer. But your coveted customer is also the same person who works for you, so why not use the same techniques used to sell products to your customers to sell the company vision to employees? Corporate communicators can foster workforce instinct through the following tools:
  • Clarity The first step is to articulate a clear and simple message from the top regarding mission and strategy. Every employee has to hear this repeatedly and directly from the CEO. No intermediaries. Two or three clarity phrases communicated via video or e-mail is all that's needed. This avoids the miscommunication inherent in the game of corporate "telephone," in which messages morph as they meander through management levels and individual interpretation.
  • Buy-in Reach the heart, and the mind will follow. Employees need to first experience the corporate vision emotionally, with communications that reach them on a gut level. Use video, town hall meetings and personal communications to inspire employees. Employees are then ready to learn what they can do and are motivated to achieve the vision. Success requires commitment, not compliance.
  • Tools and Training This stage consists of the meetings, memos, e-mails, and the like that provide the tactics for executing the vision. Some communications programs unfortunately begin and end with this phase. But with the context of clarity and the motivation of buy-in, the tools and training communications won't fall on deaf ears.
  • Workforce Instinct Employees can now operate in alignment with the CEO's vision because in their hearts they know what it is. This means that they intuitively execute the vision in the crisis mode of daily work life. If the Gartner Group is right about only 5% of the workforce understanding the corporate vision, then a 10% increase in the number of employees who "get it" would triple the effectiveness of your efforts. That's significant. Most people want to succeed and desire the satisfaction of a goal accomplished. When companies operate on workforce instinct, they operate with a competitive edge, the critical advantage needed in today's fast-paced business world.
  • James Tusty is founder and president of The Mountain View Group, a company that works with CEOs and senior leaders.

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