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  • Shohreh R Aftahi, PhD

Why Employees Don't Connect with Your Vision

Updated: Oct 4, 2021

Crafting an aspirational vision and mission statement is a crucial goal for leaders. Leadership teams often spend hours creating their business' vision, mission, and strategy, only to discover that employees disparage the message and complain about lack of direction. Executives are often surprised to receive this feedback and immediately return to the drawing board and spend more time revising and crafting the perfect statement. This misguided approach makes very little progress in clarifying their people's perception of a clear path forward to their dismay.

Ted, CEO of a technology consulting services firm, was excited about his and his team's vision and purpose at the off-site leadership meeting. They had thought deeply about their organization's core competencies, researched competitors, and identified what the future should look like. They spent hours discussing each point and communicated the output of their efforts with the workforce. However, within a year, many employees started to say the company lacked direction. Frustrated, Ted arranged another off-site meeting to gather his leadership team for another round of refining the work they had done a year ago. But this time, they engaged ThriveVance to help them reach a better result. We recommended first examine the reason for the lack of clarity for the employees. To their surprise, we discovered several very different underlying issues.

After watching CEOs' challenges in creating and communicating a vision that employees engage with and working with hundreds of teams, I recognized the common thread. There are five possible reasons for this common challenge. When employees say there is no path forward, pause and diagnose the reason behind their uncertainty before answering. Once you know what's underlying the challenge, you can address the issue more effectively.

Lack of communication

It is a misconception that one mention at a company all-hands meeting or a single email to all employees would check the box for communicating the leadership vision and purpose. Considering that the further removed employees are from the executive suite, the more often they need to hear your message delivered in a variety of ways to ensure everyone has an opportunity to understand it. For example, since people learn in different ways, your audience may not understand it all verbally, so it would be helpful to have something in writing, via a video, or both. Give people time to understand what you're sharing and include the vision and purpose as a part of the agenda during meetings to ensure that newcomers hear it too and emphasize that this perspective is here to stay and that it would not fall into the flavor of the month category.

As you communicate a clear and consistent message over time, provide specific examples of how the vision has been brought to life. For instance, Ted began to share the company's vision and pairing it with a recent measure of its success in practice. Treating each client as though they were their only client was central to Ted's vision, so every week, Ted spotlighted employees who had extended extraordinary client care regardless of the size of the account. The vision cemented itself in the culture in no time because people could associate it with their work.

Change the lens

To relate to the company vision, they must understand how what they do connects with that vision. Executives often create vision, purpose, and strategy statements that are at a high, 30,000-foot-view level. Even though they sound good, it may all be too abstract for employees operating at a lower altitude. They may not connect their day-to-day job and the organization's supposed vision, purpose, or strategy. Make sure your message is tailored for everyone at all levels of the organization. Everyone should understand how their work fits the big picture and their contributions to bringing the vision to life.