Is your company vision stuck in your head? |

Is your company vision stuck in your head?

Bob McCann

Too many business owners think that because they have a clear sense of their business strategy, their people also do.

Unexamined, this assumption usually results in employee efforts that impede, rather than forward, the realization of the company’s objectives.

In a company staffed by aggressive, talented people, there is a natural tendency toward high levels of activity.

People want to contribute and they come to work each day actually looking for an outlet for their energies much like an athlete approaches a game.

They ask,”What is the objective? Is it gaining market share? Increasing profit margins? Beating a specific competitor? Developing new products or finding new markets?” They look to their leader much the same as an athlete looks to his or her coach to provide guidance and direction.

What happens if that guidance is not forthcoming? In the absence of clear vision and strategic direction, these people turn their energies inward on the company and away from the customer’s concerns.

The result is a company culture working against itself, like a team that tackles its own players.

How can a business owner determine whether or not employees understand the company vision? There are three very visible symptoms of their lack of understanding.

The first is a shift from serving the company to surviving within it.When people are focused more on internal concerns than on external demands of the customers, the opponent changes from beating the competition to beating other departments and functions within the company.

For example, if people in the service department do not know how their objectives relate to the objectives of the people in the sales and marketing department and vice-versa, the people in each department will resort to justifying their department’s goals at the expense of the other departments and infighting and turf protection will become the norm.

Moreover, when goals are not met, the people responsible for meeting these goals will blame others.

For example product delivery and installation personnel may say that quality problems were caused by unclear job specifications.

Service personnel may fault the product delivery and installation personnel for incorrect or incomplete product installation.

As a result, the environment is permeated by a “we vs.

they” mentality, wherein the “they”may be management, other departments, the manufacturer, or a number of other “outside parties.”

In an internally focused organization, people believe that their only opportunity to make their mark is to be viewed as better than their colleagues in other departments.

Their commitment becomes one of looking good relative to their co-workers, rather than getting the job done and this is the second visible symptom.

People usually have a pretty clear notion of their job accountabilities, but they will not really understand how they are supposed to interface with other departments if they do not recognize a common strategy.

They may understand that they are supposed to increase sales of a particular type of service but they may have no idea how that type of service relates to the company’s overall marketing strategy.

Or they may be charged with providing customers with excellent service combined with a unique educational process but they may not fully understand that their performance of this is critical to the company’s future.

In such a company, there is a philosophy of “me and my priorities first.”After all, if a person fails to understand how another’s priorities are important either to him or to the company as a whole, why should that person be particularly interested in them? This perception usually results in reams of notes or hours of conversation, the purpose of which is to explain, rationalize, or report after the fact rather than generate positive action.

The unspoken company motto then becomes; “Anything is fine as long as it makes me look good (or at least, it does not make me look bad).” Over time, judging, evaluating, and assessing one’s co-workers displace the individuals’ commitments to the company and this is the third symptom.As a function of infighting and turf protection, people begin to form “safe pockets” alliances with small groups of people to whom they feel they can talk openly.

Unfortunately, these “safe pockets” usually are devoted to hearing complaints about perceived rivals within the company.As the number of “safe pockets” increase, the overall level of teamwork decreases, and two critical company strengths are lost: acknowledgement and appreciation of people and the sharing of information with co-workers.

In a company with a clearly communicated strategy, the achievement of milestone goals along the way to the attainment of the company’s strategy is an occasion for acknowledgement, appreciation, and renewal of efforts.

A touchdown may not win the game, but it is a cause for celebration, regardless.

Similarly, on a successful team, if a linebacker sees an opportunity to contribute to another player, he contributes freely knowing it will be accepted because it is supportive of the team’s common objectives.

Company owners, therefore, should realize there is a problem when they see stacks of memos, when they are called upon frequently to arbitrate interdepartmental squabbles, or when the hallway conversations take on a “we vs.

they” tone.

They may notice no efforts at information exchange within the company including superior-to-subordinate, peer-topeer, and subordinate-to-superior.

Or they may sense that people feel under-acknowledged or unappreciated.

A company owner, like a good coach, is not just someone who knows the game or strategic direction inside and out.

It is someone who can clearly communicate his or her vision and ensure that it is owned by people throughout the company.

In short, a company owner who notices any of the three “red flags” described here should look beyond specific incidents and ask himself or herself,”Do my people really know my vision for the future and how we plan to achieve it?” Bob McCann of Tahoe City is an executive coach with more than 25 years of experience as a professional developer of managers and business leaders.

He may be reached at Leadership Transition Coaching, (800) 949-4296 or by e-mail at