My senior team and I spent several years (literally) answering the question, why would customers choose us over our competition? Little did I know, that was the easy part! Later I would fret over the most vexing professional question I ever faced: how does the leader inspire others to own the Vision?
Some call it strategy; others describe it as product positioning; academics might prefer to talk about an organization’s value proposition. I like the way President George H. W. Bush summed it up as “that vision thing.”
Ownership of that Vision thing lies squarely at the feet of the leader (and perhaps one or two of his or her most senior colleagues). Regrets to some of my former private equity and debt investors who liked to believe that it was their role to drive the company’s Vision. The fallacy in that theory is that the capital “V” Vision is a complex web of connective corporate tissue that links together strategy, product, operations, compensation, organizational structure, IT systems and many other operational elements that, when taken together, define the customer experience provided by an organization. Only the leader can undertake the complex job of connecting all those dots for an organization, thereby “owning” the Vision.
That, however, is just the beginning. What results will a leader achieve if all they can do is well articulate the Vision. After all, an organization’s Vision can only be realized if the entire organization, all 2,500 employees in our case, bought in!
So how does a leader compel his or her organization to “own” the Vision?
I would like to think we, at Integra, did a pretty good job at this. After all, we grew to become one of the 10 largest fiber-based data communications providers in the U.S. and we were consistently described by the investment banking community as among the most profitable. To test my own assumptions, however, I took this question on the road. Among others, I asked Chip Bergh, CEO of Levi Strauss, how he managed (in his earlier career) to get Procter & Gamble’s Asia Region to embrace the Vision put forward by P&G’s senior leadership in Cincinnati. Chip was later asked to take on a similar challenge of imbuing Gillett’s new vision after it was acquired by P&G.
I was delighted to learn that Chip employed tactics at P&G, then later Levi Strauss & Co. that were very similar to what we did at Integra. These tactics are well captured in the tenants of Fusion Leadership, the leadership philosophy I have written about that focuses on the behaviors of leaders who successfully “fuse” their teams together around a shared purpose, in this case the Vision.
Answering this question as to how to get an entire organization to “own” the Vision is critical to the success of any organization. For this reason, and with this blog, I am launching a new series of stories and blogs that will attempt to bring ‘that Vision thing’ down to a practical, every employee level.