Shared vision: the journey from ‘their vision’ to ‘our vision’

Many researchers have written about the importance of creating a shared vision for an organization. This is common sense. Going back to 2009, HBR published research indicating that 72% of employees want their leaders to be forward thinking, envisioning what is to come. The authors noted “the only visions that take hold are shared visions” and that you will only create a shared vision if you engage the team in a process to co-create it. Just like we see with setting goals, involvement in co-creating the vision makes all the difference in it being shared.

There are three components to a shared vision: i) the overarching objectives for the prior of the vision, ii) the key results that prove the objectives were achieved and iii) the strategies we will employ to achieve these key results. 

If you are successful in creating a shared vision that inspires team members, your organization will cultivate a high-performance culture. Here are some of the many connected benefits:

  • People truly living values. Organizations that co-create a shared vision are also more likely to co-create their values. Vision defines what you aspire to accomplish. Values define how you want to behave while you accomplish your vision. An inspiring vision goes hand in hand with an organization that truly lives its values.
  • Improved teamwork.  When there is a shared vision it is easier for teams to be aligned. A common set of objectives and goals gives people a clear reference point for setting priorities and making decisions. This empowers cross-functional teamwork as people support each other while working toward the common goal.
  • Psychological safety. When people feel like their contributions are valued, their voices are heard, and they are part of a purpose-driven organization, they are more likely to feel like they have an environment in which they can thrive. 
  • Deeper sense of meaning.  When people connect their work to an inspiring vision, work is meaningful, rewarding and engaging. They understand how they contribute to the overarching goal.

Sharing a vision is not the same as co-creating a shared vision. Unfortunately, many leadership teams do the former. They often engage a small subset of the organization, often at the highest levels, to create a vision through a series of workshops and facilitated discussions. They then share the curated vision with the organization, thinking the job is done. As a result of this disconnected approach, only 28% of employees say their organization’s vision inspires them.

What makes 72% of visions uninspiring? This question puzzles many leaders, who feel they ran a robust process and came up with a vision the leadership team is really happy with. The culprit in this case stems from three common problems:

  • Incomplete perspective. In our planning work it is glaringly obvious that while leaders are usually effective at identifying the overarching objectives, and perhaps the key results, the people on the front lines have valuable input for the strategies. If the vision is perceived as misguided by people who were not involved in the process they will not see it is ‘shared’. It’s seen as ‘their’ vision, not ‘ours’.
  • Insufficient communication. Simply communicating the vision at a townhall or via a shiny slide deck is not enough. The vision should also be presented in team meetings, giving all team members a chance to ask questions and engage. To make it ‘our vision’ it then needs to become part of daily life. Team goals are connected to the vision on a regular basis. The vision needs is referenced as part of setting work priorities or tradeoffs. The vision provides a basis for making key decisions. People are recognized for following through on commitments to achieve the vision. People are also held accountable in the context of how they didn’t support the achievement of the vision. True communication helps people feel important.  
  • Lack of authorship. A lack of authorship can result in team members finding the plan unrealistic, based on incorrect assumptions or overlooking critical risks. If the vision is seen as flawed or disconnected from reality, the result can be worse than it just being uninspiring. People will possibly be resistant as the work required to achieve ‘their’ vision is imposed on them. This is exacerbated if team members also lack the resources to deliver upon unrealistic expectations that were created without their input.

A shared vision serves as your organization’s ‘north star’. It unites and inspires everybody, propelling your organization toward its loftiest goals and achieving its core mission. When team members believe they collectively influenced the vision, it shifts from ‘their’ vision to ‘our’ vision. Co-creation also helps everybody connect their individual contribution to the vision, which fosters a sense of meaning and purpose. Helping people feel important, heard and understood cultivates a high-performance culture.

Put this into practice

To help leaders rapidly become more effective, we have created The Playbook, our free guide to the foundations of high-performance leadership. If you would like to pinpoint your personal development priorities, take our free High-Performance Leader Self-Assessment or we can help you get a 360° review. 

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