How to Communicate Your Vision So It Sticks

Communicating your vision is the single most important task of leadership. Done well, it provides your organization with an inspiring, enticing, motivating picture of what you can all achieve together. 

Why is it, then, that in so many organizations the vision doesn’t reach into the hearts and minds of all employees? And how can you and your leadership team be deliberate about ensuring that it does? Here are some key steps for communicating your vision so that it creates the kind of lift you need to succeed.

Make it clear. Before your leadership team goes about communicating the vision to others, ask yourselves, is it clear to us? My point here is not about the quality of wordsmithing in your vision statement. But rather, can you picture in your minds with great clarity the exciting future that awaits if you are successful? 

Remember: a vision is not a sequence of words. It’s a compelling idea. Make sure the idea is so clear that even if you all use different words to describe it you are depicting the same desirable future.

One way to pressure test the clarity of your vision is to gather as a leadership team and conduct a Q&A session. Encourage them to ask any question they like about the company vision and answer them as a team. Within an hour, you’ll know whether the vision is clear or if it needs more work.

Make it inspiring. To mobilize the full energy of your organization, the vision has to inspire the people who will make it a reality. “We will increase revenue by 30% this year” is not a vision. That’s a metric. It’s one that may be exciting to the board and the C-suite, but it likely won’t be to the people who are actually getting the work done. There’s a risk that because senior executives may be more financially and business-oriented, they may assume such matters will excite the ranks. No.

For example, American Express’ vision is about providing the world’s best customer experience every day. It’s about consistently helping real people, and making their lives better. This kind of vision goes a lot further to inspire employees than a vision about maximizing market share or profitability ever could. 

To ensure your vision is inspiring, start by asking what inspires you personally. What is important to you that is connected to the company vision? In the classic book The Leadership Challenge, the authors use the word “ennobling” to describe a necessary quality for vision. That is, your vision needs to call upon employees to bring out their best qualities in order to achieve it. One way to make that happen is to be sure the vision is connected with what you and your colleagues truly care about as human beings.

Make it shared. A shared vision is a vision that everyone can vividly imagine and own. And you won’t get there just by broadcasting a vision statement once at an all-hands meeting. In fact, for a vision to be truly shared you need much more than that. You need:

A steady drumbeat of key messages. Members of the leadership team will need to communicate the vision over and over, in different contexts, in different ways, using different words. A basic truth about communication is that at any given moment, a majority of your audience is distracted. So you’ll need to share key messages about your vision over and over before they begin to stick. Also, because things look different in the trenches than they do in the C-suite, make sure the vision is “adapted for delivery at all levels of the organization” (see 5 Reasons Your Employees Don’t Understand Your Company’s Vision).

Stories and personal anecdotes. Find ways to make the vision relatable by talking about why it matters to you personally. Share stories from the business, from your life, or from the world around you that illustrate the vision or show why it’s so important. Research and common sense suggest that stories are among the most powerful ways to get ideas across. The more personal this sharing is, the better. Share why the vision authentically matters to you

A conversation. To make the vision shared, you need the communication to be two-way. So include smaller group opportunities where people can ask questions about the vision, poke holes in it, share concerns or critique. For the vision to be shared, everyone needs to own it. And they won’t own it if you just deliver it at their doorstep. Consider how much time you and your leadership team spent talking about, thinking about and struggling with the vision. Every person in the company needs to go on some of that journey themselves in order to be a full owner of the vision.

Prepare well. The single most important rule of executive communication is this: the more important a communication task is, the more time you should spend preparing for it.

I used to coach teams of pharmaceutical executives preparing to present new drugs in regulatory hearings in Washington, D.C. Those companies would spend hundreds, even thousands of hours preparing for a one-hour presentation and a 30 minute Q&A session. Why? Because the stakes were so high: sometimes the whole future of the company hung in the balance. It would all come down to which way a committee voted at the end of the meeting.

What’s different about communicating a vision to your company is that unlike regulatory hearings, there is no one single moment where everything is on the line. This makes the task much easier to ignore. In so many cases, little time is invested not only in strategizing how to best communicate the vision, but also in actually communicating it. And that’s a shame. Because winning employees over with a vision is far more important than winning a committee vote in Washington.

For more insights see How to Communicate Your Company’s Strategy Effectively.