Don’t Have a Vision for Your Business Unit? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I am a senior leader who reports to an SVP. I lead a business unit for a region. I recently had a one-on-one with my boss—a rare thing—and she gave me some feedback I am grappling with.

My company recently started doing pulse surveys, so I thought she might want to talk about the scores from my business unit that made it seem people’s morale was low. I was right.

She said I was very good at processes and systems and she was pleased with my unit’s results. Then she told me she thought I needed to work on being more inspirational. She asked me what my vision is for my business unit and I had to admit, beyond hitting our numbers and deliverables, I don’t really have one. Then before I could get more detail, she was called away and that was that.

I don’t even know where to begin on how to create a vision—or what to do with it once I have it. Any insight would be useful.

Feeling Blind

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Dear Feeling Blind,

This is a very common predicament for people who are straddling senior management and executive management positions. You have been consistently promoted because you are great at setting up processes and systems, holding people accountable, and executing results. But until someone points out that you need to start developing your ability to inspire and motivate people, it just doesn’t occur to you. So here you are.

It’s okay; you can do this. It might be uncomfortable but getting good at it at this point in your leadership journey will serve you very well.

The first step is to remember a leader you had in the past who did inspiration and motivation well. Try to remember what that leader did that worked. You can also ask your SVP for her vision so that you have an example of what she means—but the fact that you are drawing a blank on this leads me to think your boss may not have a vision either. Or if she does, she hasn’t shared it or it is unremarkable.

For guidance, I turned to the book FULL STEAM AHEAD! Unleash the Power of Vision in Your Company and Your Life. Authors Ken Blanchard and Jesse Stoner define vision as “knowing who you are, where you are going, and what will guide your journey.”

Essentially, it means you are providing the why—the context and meaning of the work your people are doing. You are painting a compelling picture of a job well done that will Be motivating for your team.

People often talk about creating a vision—but I would argue that you probably have one already. It’s clear that you are super motivated, which is probably because you have a strong sense of what is possible and how the success of your team connects to the success of the organization. So your job is to articulate those things as simply as possible. My experience is that many leaders think these ideas are obvious to others because they are obvious to them. And this is never the case. You have to spell it out, and then you have to repeat it like you are broken record.

Blanchard and Stoner lay out the elements of a Compelling Vision. The questions and comments below each element are mine:

  • It helps us understand what business we are really in.

You know what results you are after. But what will those results do the for the company? The world? What does your team do that no other team does? A great example is Disney, who we all know is in the theme park business but they say they are in the business of making memories.

  • It provides a picture of the desired future that we can actually see.

What is possible for your BU if you continue to do well? Maybe you could grow? Attract top talent? Be a role model for other BUs?

  • It provides guidelines that help us make daily decisions.

What values do you use to make decisions? Have you shared those? What behaviors do you expect from your people? Do they know?

  • It is enduring.

What makes your team great? What makes it special?

  • It is about being great, not just about beating the competition (or in your case, hitting the numbers.)

You and your team are doing a lot of the right things. What do you do? How do you do it? How can these things be replicated? How are you different from other teams or business units?

  • It is inspiring, which is not expressed solely in numbers.

A vision is different from a goal, which can usually be expressed in measurable terms.

  • It touches the heart and spirit of everyone.

It may feel too arrogant or touchy-feely to express possibility or highest ideals and use language that it isn’t brass tacks. This can be what makes it so uncomfortable for many. It took me twenty-two years to get the courage to include the word love in the vision for Blanchard Coaching Services. 

  • It helps each person see how they can contribute.

More than ever before, employees are seeking meaning and connection. When people can see how what they do connects with the bigger picture, it makes their job much more compelling.

Once you have your answers to some of these questions, you are ready to get a draft vision down on paper. Don’t worry about getting it right the first time—just get it all down. Then revise, word craft, and keep at it until you have something simple. Short and sweet is much easier to remember.

You might want to follow your vision statement with a mission statement. The vision is what is possible, and the mission is why you do what you do, and for whom. A mission statement structure could look like this:

Our mission is to __________ (do something) for __________(what people?) so that __________(those people can have something, do something, and feel some way).

There is no reason you can’t involve your team at this point. Let them poke at it and provide further input.

Then share it. With everyone. Start meetings by restating the vision. Ask people to print it out and put it over their desks. If you are all in the office, have posters made. In the rough and tumble of the workday, it is easy to lose sight of the vision. You should take any opportunity you can to remind your people what it is.

This will undoubtedly feel downright weird and risky to you. Feel free to share your discomfort with your people so you aren’t trying to pretend to be someone you aren’t or be good at something you are doing for the first time. You can also share that the whole exercise is a work in progress and that you are open to reworking it.

The key is to start. Examine what drives you, what makes what you do matter. Get all of your thoughts down on paper and then start shaping them. Take your time. Be prepared to have things sound hokey, or high minded, or farfetched. It will all come into focus.

I have no idea if this is what your boss meant. But I can promise that the work you do on this will not be wasted time. It will give you new insight into your team and yourself as a leader—and it almost certainly will be inspirational.

Love, Madeleine

About Madeleine

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response soon. Please be advised that although she will do her best, Madeleine cannot respond to each letter personally. Letters will be edited for clarity and length.

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