November & December theme:
“Choose One Thing”
Posted in :  Choose One Thing

This post is part six of a six-part series titled, “Choose One Thing” publishing in November and December 2013. If you’re like most businesses we know, you have that “one thing” from the past year that is still hanging in the air — it’s the one priority that, among all the others, would make the biggest impact on your business if it were fully realized. It could be competing in a new space or gaining more business from current customers. During this six-part series we’ll share the most common challenges we see among clients. If one of them is yours, let’s talk. We can help you turn your one big challenge into your biggest success for 2014.

Leaders are responsible for having a vision for the future, charting a course to success and rallying the troops. As a leader, have you ever had a crystal clear vision of the future, which when presented as a solution, is met with blank stares and skepticism? No one supports the idea or even understands it. The flash of insight becomes a hallucination leaving you dazed, deflated and demoralized. What happened? What went wrong? Why can’t they see the brilliance of your idea and get behind it?

Maybe everyone in the room is nodding their heads in agreement but knowing if they’re really buying what you’re selling can be difficult. If you shared a vision in 2013 that didn’t come to be, there is hope for 2014. Let’s start by using Strategenic’s 7 warning signs that your employees don’t understand your vision:

1. Your employees do their work but there is little zest or enthusiasm
2. After meetings people do not implement what was agreed
3. If you ask employees what the company’s vision is they give you different, vague answers and show little enthusiasm
4. The leadership team are all polite with no heated discussions
5. Employee productivity is low and focused on issues not solutions
6. Few people are taking responsibility and making things happen
7. Business momentum has slowed right down

Sound familiar? If so, and if you think helping others embrace your vision needs attention, let’s first start by clarifying why this work is so important. As my colleague Louisa Desson poses in Why Engaged Employees Are Good for Business, if your employees are not aligned with the vision, how can your customers be? Alignment is critical to your business. Yet, knowing how to achieve it can be quite a challenge.

Over the years, I’ve seen many leaders suffer from the “Curse of Knowledge,” a common phenomenon explored in depth by the Heath brothers, in their book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. Lots of research in economics and psychology shows that when we know something, it becomes hard for us to imagine not knowing it. As a result, we become lousy communicators.

“When we have a vision crystalize in our head, we’ve gone through the rationalization, we’ve looked at all the constraints and formulated some sort of path. And we’ve mentally walked down that path. We end up on the mountain top way far away, waving our flag at everyone yelling to them, ‘Hey! Come find me!’ At best, this leads to a mandate coming down from the leadership that results in robotic compliance from employees. In order for folks to be accountable for more than exactly what they were told to do they need to be enrolled in the big idea. They need to be empowered to make decisions based on the vision in order to have the greatest impact. For that to happen, employees need to make their own connections. This lack of personal enrollment and ownership of an idea can lead to organizational paralysis,” says Fathom partner, Brent Robertson.

The solution? Be sticky!

The Heaths outline six principles for crafting ideas that give folks what they need to make your ideas their own. These principles allow people to make a connection with your ideas.

Principle 1: Simplicity: We must create ideas that are simple and profound.

Principle 2: Unexpectedness: We need to violate people’s expectations.

Principle 3: Concreteness: We must explain our ideas in terms of human actions, in terms of sensory information.

Principle 4: Credibility: Sticky ideas have to carry their own credentials.

Principle 5: Emotions: We get people to care about our ideas by making them feel something.

Principle 6: Stories: We get people to act by telling them stories.

Allen Schoer, founder and CEO of The TAI Group, an executive leadership consulting firm notes a great example of these principles in action. He writes:

In 1961, JFK recognized the need for a new U.S. narrative to galvanize the space race. Before a joint session of Congress, he boldly announced that by the end of the decade the country would be dedicated to “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” Despite widespread doubts, and the fact that NASA had not yet even sent a man into orbit around the Earth, he electrified the collective imagination of the country.

Always Be Listening

The storytelling process is an ongoing one. You must be constantly checking in to see if your stories and ideas are taking hold. It’s important to pay attention to your audience as you’re telling your story but even more important to follow up in the days, weeks and months to come. Storytelling is not a one and done. It’s an active process of testing a new approach, seeing how it lands and understanding the impact it has.

Other posts in the “Choose One Thing” series can be found here.

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Posted by: Steve Machesney
Email the author: stevem@fathom.net