“Leadership is the ability to turn vision into reality.” – Warren Bennis
A leader needs to have more than big ideas and grand visions. A leader must have the ability to take those ideas and visions and translate them into something tangible to move the business forward. How do leaders do this? By aligning team members to deliver on the vision, in real and concrete ways, through the following three steps (plus one bonus step):
Step 1 – Translate the vision into action.
Understanding the big picture – the vision – is important, but it’s not enough. A leader must identify specific actions that need to take place and paint the picture of what needs to happen in order to reach the goal.
How? Translating vision into action requires a few steps:
- Get clear on how the vision (or what parts) applies to your team. Communicating the overall picture as it relates to the organization is great, but it does little to tie the vision back to the individual or team level. Figure out the direct connection to your team and show it to your team members.
- Develop measurable objectives that will help create tangible results that move your team closer toward the vision. Making things measurable helps clarify the specific result being sought.
- Create short-term action plans that will help you achieve some of the objectives and/or show demonstrable progress towards the objectives. This can include workback schedules, project plans, etc. Breaking a big goal into manageable chunks drives productivity and prevents overwhelm or lack of focus.
Tip: Limit your action plans to the coming month or quarter. Many people can’t stay focused or lose interest beyond the short-term. However, be ready to explain how the short-term ladders-up to the long-term vision.
Step 2 – Align the team to the vision
This builds on step 1, by ensuring that everyone understands their specific role and activities, and how they need to contribute in order to make the vision real. Buy-in drives productivity and success.
Aligning each team member to the overall vision helps them see how their work is important and gives them purpose. Do so by providing context in the following ways:
- Talk about what the future state will be like and and what work needs to be done to get there. By linking concrete actions to big picture objectives, tasks become more meaningful and questions about “the point” of certain activities (particularly those that may be less engaging in and of themselves) can be circumvented.
- When having individual conversations, explain how their skills and work will help accomplish the overall goal. For example: “Julie, your interview skills are going to be essential in making sure we build a best-in-class team.”, or “Karim, your business logic skills will help us classify and rank the various tasks we need to do, which is going to be integral in simplifying our business processes.”
Remember: People need to see how their work contributes to the end goal to help make their work meaningful….help them connect the dots.
Step 3 – Motivate the team to reach the vision
Often, projects or new initiatives start off with lots of enthusiasm and fanfare, but quickly become rote, or worse, fall by the wayside. Encouraging your team to take the necessary actions, and celebrating wins along the way, goes a long way to maintaining momentum.
Motivating the team to perform the needed activities requires consistent communication and regular management.
- Gain buy-in on the plan for achieving the objectives. When possible, have the people responsible for the work contribute to the development of the plans. Your team will feel more ownership for the process and outcome this way – not to mention, they may have ideas for efficiencies or different approaches you may not have considered.
- Celebrate wins, effort, and initiative. Celebrations can be fun, serious, or goofy, whatever is authentic to your personality and your team’s culture. Mobile trophies, project milestone celebrations, lifesaver awards, even a personal note acknowledging and thanking someone for a job well done, are some examples of simple but effective ways of reinforcing positive momentum.
- Keep momentum by reminding people where the team is on the plan, how far they’ve come, and what is left to do.
Tip: Over-communicate the end goal, and keep your team up-to-date against where they stand on the path to the goal. It will keep the goal top of mind and keep team members motivated to continue moving forward.
Of course, in a perfect world, projects would stay on track and go exactly as planned – but in reality, this is rarely the case. When things go awry, it may be necessary to enact Step 4 – Use Mistakes and Mishaps to Grow. Here’s how:
- Create Plan B – Think through a mitigation or recovery plan, either by yourself or with specific team members, if appropriate. Ideally, this is done prior to mishaps, but not every problem is foreseeable. Creating Plan B reassures the team and keeps the momentum moving forward.
- Acknowledge it – Communications should be tailored to respect confidentiality as appropriate, but it remains that honesty is the best policy. Chances are, if things have run off-course, your team is aware at some level. Let people know that yes, a setback has happened, but that you are going to address it… and then explain how.
- Learn From It – Have a retrospective with the team to help learn from what’s happened. Not only does this better prepare you for future obstacles, but it also instills within the team a sense that setbacks can be dealt with, which can boost confidence and encourage intelligent risk-taking. It also models for your team the growth potential of owning mistakes and difficulties.
Regardless of the scope of the vision – from a small team project to a large corporate initiative, a leader’s job is not just to articulate the vision, but to lead the process of turning it into action, and then results. By using the steps above, you can interpret, communicate and motivate effectively to turn vision into concrete success.