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Perspectives

Communicating a vision for transformation

If you don’t know where you’re going, any path will get you there

If you are leading a transformation effort, you are certain to have heard about the importance of a vision. If you are like many leaders, you hold a vision in your mind and probably talk about it frequently. You may have even created a vision statement. But are you communicating a vision that can effectively assist your organization in moving forward?

How effective is your transformation vision?

For government leaders who aim to achieve necessary and valuable transformation, crafting and communicating a great vision is critical. It isn’t enough for the leader to know where they’re going; the leader’s vision should be taken on board as an effective guide by individuals throughout the organization. This requires the vision be expressed in a way that is clear, concrete, compelling, and connected.

Clear: The language of government–and the English language—may not be your friend when communicating a vision. “World Class,” “seamless,” “agile,” “engaging,” “user-friendly,” may be accurate descriptors in the leader’s mind, but they suffer from both over-use and ambiguity when used as the primary definitions of a future state. Over-familiarity may cause some listeners to tune out, but just as problematic is that different members of the leadership team can each attach their own meaning to the same term.  

Concrete: Effective visions are communicated so that they enable employees to understand how their specific corner of the world will change. This requires clarity, but it also requires something more. When a major change is anticipated, leading questions in the minds of everyone in the organization are “What am I going to be asked to do?”, “Who am I going to be working with?” and, of significant importance to them, “How will my life change?” 

Connected: People cannot take on new, complex ideas in a vacuum. We understand the new world through the lens of the old. Further, there is a bias to the status quo and a nostalgia for the past. Because leaders are focused on the change, they often give short shrift (or no attention at all) to those elements of the organization’s processes, people, and culture that will remain the same. 

Compelling: When done well, communicating the vision gives employees a clear picture of the future and a concrete understanding of what it means for them. But that’s not enough to motivate transformational change. The future should be attractive enough that it energizes the organization. A future that appeals to people on an emotional level can provide the required extra focus and motivation.

“Seamless” to one manager may mean the agency’s services can be accessed without having to go to multiple websites. “Seamless” to another manager may mean an intuitive, positive, customer journey. To convey “Seamless,” or any dimension of the vision properly, it’s necessary to move beyond labels.

Increasingly, leaders are turning to video to clearly communicate a future vision in an exciting way that does not depend on words that are up for interpretation. This more visual approach is being explored as a means to communicate a vision for customer transformation at both Amtrak and the United States Postal Service.

- FPO 

How effective is your vision? Take a self test

Clear

√  Have you provided a rich model of the vision beyond a simple vision statement?
Are the words used to articulate the vision specific enough so that they are not open to interpretation?
Is it free from terms that are generic, boiler-plate, or overused?
 

Concrete

√  Is it easy to understand how processes will operate differently in the future?
Will members of the organization feel comfortable with and/or understand what their role will look like in the future?

Compelling

√  Does the vision present the benefits of transformation in a way that members of the organization will feel inspired to contribute to bringing about the change?
Are the benefits articulated in terms of both individual benefits and broader agency or societal benefits?
Are the benefits to the organization communicated?  

Connected

√  Will individuals who are committed to the traditional ways of doing business be able to see where core elements of the “old ways” fit into the future vision?
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