Vision put man on moon, gave Ray the Cup (Communication Matters column)

Despite being a sports fan, June is simply too late in the season to be watching hockey — Stanley Cup or not. But this year, I couldn’t help be drawn into the saga of Colorado Avalanche player Ray Bourque.

Bourque has been playing in the NHL for an incredible 22 seasons but had never drank from the Stanley Cup. This story is inspiring because this franchise, renowned for its individuality, did something surprising during its successful run for the Cup — they became a team. The catalyst was not money, ego or fear, it was to do something bigger — win the trophy for Ray. It became the team’s all-consuming vision.

This started me thinking about how uninspired a lot of businesses are. I don’t see many corporations with a vision, let alone one worth rallying around. Companies that do have one usually end up confusing employees instead of inspiring them because their vision is not well-defined, dull or written in business speak and poorly communicated.

Compounding the issue is that the term and its definition seem to vary depending on the hot buzzword of the moment. I recently heard the following terms being used interchangeably at one company — strategic thrusts, core principles, mission, and key imperatives. It was confusing, just imagine trying to explain it to employees. I like the word “vision” because it’s simple and clear. However, no matter what you choose to use, stick with it and define it so everyone understands — including yourself — what it really means.

One of the best and most famous visions was used at NASA — “to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade.” It was inspirational, understandable and a real stretch of the imagination. And, more importantly, they achieved it. Everyone from the cleaning staff to the astronauts understood the goal.

Does a vision really matter? Yes.

The need for employees to link their day-to-day activities to something tangible, achievable and worthy can be both inspirational and altering — an enormous competitive advantage to a business.

But having a vision is only the start, the other two steps needed to make it work are – communicating and then living it.

Companies often lose sight of the fact that a business is all about people. And people want to work toward something meaningful and relevant. To do this, employees need to know what the corporate vision is and how to live it. At many companies the only ones aware of the vision are the leadership team. Others claim that it has been communicated and point to a framed copy on the wall or show you a specially designed mouse pad.

This sort of communication misses the point. Your company’s vision has to become part of the strategic business process. This means sharing the vision and how it’s progressing to all levels of the organization.

It should be part of the agenda at business planning sessions, employee meetings, quarterly results updates and on any scorecard communication.

Remember to continuously reinforce the message. And, to ensure all employees understand the significance of company’s vision, it needs to be linked to performance and incentive plans.

Like so many things that were good ideas, but poorly executed, corporate visions have suffered a decline in popularity. However I can see through my work that people want something more to aspire to than an increase in sales or growth in market share — important yes, but hard to get excited about.

NASA didn’t have to say they wanted to raise a billion dollars, or be the employer of choice, they knew by focusing everyone on their vision — to do something no other country had ever done — would achieve these results.

Many sports enthusiasts have argued that the New Jersey Devils were a better hockey team on paper, but no one can dispute that the Colorado Avalanche wasn’t the better team in spirit. A vision may not win you the Stanley Cup but it will inspire you to try and that’s something worth getting excited about.

Sandy French is the president of Northern Lights, an internal communication agency. He can be reached at (416) 593-6104 ext. 222 or [email protected].

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