If you went into just about any company and asked employees “Where is this organization headed?” you’d likely get as many different answers as people you asked. And if you asked the CEO how confident he or she was that the organization was headed in the same direction, you’d probably hear something like “I’m getting tired of talking up the vision – I just don't get why people don't get it." What’s happening here?
Why you are probably under-communicating
As a leader you think about the destination constantly – or nearly so. You’ve talked with every one of the people in your company about where we’re headed. You might even be sick of hearing yourself talk about it.
Yet studies show that leaders under-communicate their company vision by a factor of 10. That’s right – to be effective, leaders need to talk up their vision 10 times more often than they do. How can that be?
I believe it’s a perfect storm of two realities that every leader has to live with:
- People are so pummeled by information that the old rule of having to see something 7 times before it gets past the mental filters is now found to be between 10 and 12 times – nearly double.
- When you know something, it’s really hard to realize what it’s like to not know it. This “curse of knowledge” written about by Dan and Chip Heath makes it difficult to realize people simply don’t know all the components and reasons for the words in the vision that you share with them.
How people make up for this shortfall
Employees use observations of what works and what doesn’t to guess where the company is headed – they reverse-engineer the vision. They will do their very best to discern what the real goals are, and yet being human beings they will often guess wrongly.
The real problem is that leaders usually aren’t aware that employees don’t know the destination and are having to make it up. And then the leadership gets surprised by the results and has to spend a significant amount of time redirecting efforts – which is puzzling because they feel they are almost overdoing it.
Actions you can take today
- Describe your destination.Think about where you believe you’re heading, and write it down. Carve away what’s not important until you’ve arrived at what’s most important. Bonus points if you can get it down to one paragraph, triple if you can get it down to one sentence.
- Ask people what they think. Pick a few people from a slice across the organization and ask them where they see the company going. Write down everything they say. Bonus points if you can keep from getting defensive and instead stay curious about their perspectives.