In working with business leaders around the world, we spend a lot of time talking about the values, philosophies, and cultures they need to guide and nurture innovation in their business. One of the key questions we are often asked is, “how can we drive engagement and ownership in the business for the new things we are trying to do?” …“how can we put some power into our strategy?”
The answer I consistently come back to – and the one thing that has always worked for me in my own business leadership – is to cast an audacious vision.
What I mean by this – aside from whatever stated mission an organization may have reflecting who they fundamentally are – is a statement that paints for them a very new future... one that captures their imagination and at the same time presents for them a significant stretch goal, not unlike Dr. King did when he proclaimed “I have a dream!”
Some examples might include:
- “We will be the Number One provider of 'x' in the world!”
- “We will be recognized as the sole leader in the field of 'x'!”
- “We will rise to the occasion of being the ones who drive the future course of the 'x' market!”
Notice what these all have in common. First, they all paint a strong, compelling image of who the enterprise is to become in the future, rather than who it is today. They represent a transformation… sometimes a daunting one. And transformation always involves a journey – often a challenging one, but one that will build a sense of community and produce a story worthy of being called a legacy.
Second, they are about who the enterprise is to be, rather than what the enterprise is to do. As such, they transcend any one effort or goal, like “putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade”... something that is ephemeral and time-bound, and instead produce a potentially much longer burn by being about the “who” more than the “what”. Implicit in the vision is the fact that the organization will need to accomplish some extraordinary things if they are to become this extraordinary entity – that is indeed the power of the vision. And even when they do eventually achieve this audacious vision, there will always be new ways of raising the bar and recasting a new, equally audacious, vision – either vertically within a market, or horizontally across markets (including within entirely new markets they have created along the way).
On numerous occasions I have used this very method in my own leadership – always with great success. In each case, what I have witnessed has been nothing short of phenomenal. People who would otherwise be ordinary “clock-stampers” begin to change. For them, it is no longer about coming to a job each day and putting in their time in exchange for a paycheck (the transactional treadmill). Instead, it becomes about waking up each day to be a part of a movement... part of doing something worth investing their lives in... something audacious to aim for. This really does change people and their behaviors. And when that happens, the conversation changes as well... we stop talking about things like “engagement”, “empowerment”, and “ownership”. Instead, we start talking about how we can work together to change the world – we use the language of movements. This inherently engages people without ever having to use the “e” word.
And in the context of pursuing breakthrough and disruptive innovations for medium-term and long-term growth, it simply becomes a matter of associating those initiatives with this audacious
vision. Once that has been done, passion does the rest in terms of driving the innovations forward.
So, for all would-be world-changing business leaders struggling to engage your people in your strategic growth efforts, my challenge to you is this... cast an audacious vision… a vision for becoming something much more than you are today – and really, really mean it! Show you mean it by backing it up with your own actions, including giving clear strategic directions and investing in innovation initiatives. Then get out of the way and let yourself be amazed at what your people will do to deliver on that vision. The vision will do far more than any pep talk you could ever give, or any transactional incentive you could ever offer. When it's all said and done, you probably will have changed the world, and along with it, yourselves as well.
About the author:
Anthony Mills is the Founder & CEO of Legacy Innovation Group, a strategic innovation and growth strategy consulting firm with its own audacious vision. Learn more at www.legacyinnova.com.