What the research is telling us about the search for meaning at work
In a recent study by Bentley University, 84% of millennials said that helping to make a positive difference in the world is more important to them in terms of motivation than professional recognition. In a Henley Business School study, they found that 47% of all employees want their employer to be making a positive social impact but 66% of Gen Zers see this as a priority.
To drive up engagement and to help employees make meaning of their work, it’s important for you, as a leader, to be clear on the purpose of your team, of your department and of your organisation and the function of each in the world and in society and why that matters.
What does this mean for leaders?
This boils down to having a vision and sharing that vision of something beyond just a job or a project for each person working for you, but instead to help each employee feel part of something bigger which is making a positive difference in your context. This blog gives you 7 steps on how to develop and share your leadership vision.
Step 1. Develop your vision
What is a vision anyway – it can sound kind of mystical and esoteric and fluffy. But done well, it’s none of those things – a vision should be aspirational, inspirational and concrete. And when properly considered, it can apply to whatever your leadership context is – whether that’s for a team, a department, an organisation or a global enterprise business. Your vision, in short, is the change you want to see in the world. It’s how your team or department or organisation will make a positive, meaningful impact, given its context.
For Strengthscope, I describe our vision as ‘Enabling all humans to embrace their uniqueness and change their lives for the better.’ As you can hear, that’s pretty aspirational – ALL humans? Well yeh, as many as humanly possible. And the change we want to see is that people can embrace who they really are and with that comes positive, sometimes transformational, change for them – at work and in life.
Now as a team lead in a contact centre, by contrast, your vision won’t necessarily be that. I mean it could be, who knows, but an alternative in that context might be ‘Responding to every customer in a respectful, timely, efficient way so that they can access the products that will most benefit them.’ Still aspirational – that’s EVERY customer and in a particular way (which BTW will probably reflect your team’s and/or your own personal values – which we’ll come on to). Whatever level of leadership you’re at and whatever your context, it’s definitely possible to arrive at a vision which will inspire your people to aspire to something beyond just their role or project by giving them a greater meaning.
Step 2. Make it personal
To bring your vision to life, it’s helpful to link it to things that are important to you personally, so that you can articulate your vision from the heart. That’s likely to somewhere and somehow link your vision to your personal values, so that the basis of your vision is grounded in those things that matter most to you, the principles you live your life by…your values. For more on establishing your values, take a listen to my podcast at Season 4, episode 5, ‘How to find your values and why it matters’.
Secondly, storytelling can be extremely powerful in helping you describe your vision. It might be a personal story from your own life or experience. Or it might be the story of a customer who benefitted from the work that you do in your team or department or organisation. Or your story may come from somewhere else entirely, like an allegory for example. But by making it personal in this way, your people will find it more relatable as it will be infused with your emotion…real, human emotion…and that’s always engaging. Even if your people don’t share so many of your values or can’t relate exactly to the story you’re telling, they’ll relate to the emotion you’re expressing.
Last point, it’s important to refine your vision and the way you’re planning to communicate it by putting it front of a few trusted people for a road test and to get some feedback. Potential testers could include colleagues at work, a friend or two or even family members. Some people use their kids as a sounding board because if they can’t make something make sense to their kids, they see that as a cue to keep simplifying until it does hit the mark.
Step 3. Engage your people
When you’re ready to communicate your vision, you need to pick your moment – maybe it’s at the start of a quarter or during planning for the next financial year. Maybe at a team offsite, a ‘town hall’ or other event, even possibly a team meeting. But it’s worth picking your moment and thinking also about how you can engage and involve your people on a human level.
For example, once you’ve communicated your vision, you could ask them to discuss it in small groups to talk about what resonated with them, or maybe what similar stories they have, or which of their personal values is most closely linked to what you’ve described.
What’s also important is asking people how they can play their part in delivering your vision, so that they can see the link between their day-to-day work and the greater purpose of the team or organisation. For each person to share this publicly, even in a small group, almost serves as a pledge as to how they will play a role in delivering the vision as well as helping them to feel connected to it, but also feeling accountable for the vision being attained.
Step 4. Make it visible and ubiquitous
I use the word ubiquitous mainly because I like how it sounds but also because it means something that is constantly encountered and widespread. And that’s what your vision needs to be. Once you’ve presented it, it needs to be repeated, re-seen, re-encountered and in various different forms. We have ours up on the wall at Strengthscope and on mugs, plus at the start of each team meeting, and we revisit it sometimes during team offsites.
And if you can identify ways of measuring concrete progress towards achieving the vision, so much the better. At Strengthscope, we equate the number of lives changed for the better to the number of Strengthscopes that have been downloaded and used, and we review that number each month as one of our most important business metrics. So how can you measure the milestones along the way to achieving your vision?
Step 5. Behave consistently with the vision
As a leader and the originator of the vision, it’s super-important that you behave in ways that are consistent with its delivery and achievement. So ask yourself whether you need to alter your behaviour to behave more consistently with your vision? Are you referring to it often enough? Either publicly or in terms of your business planning activity? Do you do or say things sometimes that might be seen to be out of alignment with the vision? If so, do you need to bring your behaviour back into line, because when inconsistency is seen by your people, it can undermine trust and that may inadvertently lead to your vision being treated with scepticism.
Step 6. Celebrate success
I’ve mentioned the importance of continuing to bring people back to the vision by making it visible. One of the best ways of doing this is by celebrating milestones along the way to achieving it and linking these celebrations very clearly to the vision as your goal.
At Strengthscope, our vision is also baked into our values and we have an employee recognition programme that identifies when members of the team have gone above and beyond expectation in delivering our values. This has the double positive effect of celebrating success in achieving the vision and reinforcing behaviours that are aligned to it. As well as keeping it visible and alive. So how can you do something similar?
Step 7. Refine the vision as you go
It’s important to say that it’s ok to keep reviewing your vision along the way. Sometimes, words become dated or the vision becomes less relevant as your context changes. All of that is ok. You don’t have to be a slave to your vision if it isn’t serving you as well as it used to. I recently heard about a global organisation who were so committed to their vision that they carved it in stone on the brickwork of their HQ. Which was fine until they got taken over by another organisation and had to get the stonemasons back in to get rid of it.
Joking aside, keep working on your vision, keep checking in on its relevance and whether it still has that inspiring, aspirational meaning that it once did. If it needs updating or changing up entirely, that’s all ok.
In summary – the seven steps to developing a leadership vision
So those are my 7 steps to developing your leadership vision: develop your vision, make it personal, engage your people, make it visible, behave consistently, celebrate success and refine it as you go.
Our response to the need for leadership vision: StrengthscopeLeader
A final word, around 10 years ago, we developed a leadership tool, StrengthscopeLeader, to help leaders get feedback on a variety of leadership behaviours, including how well they share their vision and the extent to which they are successfully engaging their people in the delivery of that vision. The tool is now used globally, I recently completed mine again and the feedback is so so powerful to help me prioritise my leadership actions and communicate direction for my team. If you’re interested to see more, search on StrengthscopeLeader or go to the Strengthscope website. There’s also another podcast which talks in more detail about the research and practice which led us to develop StrengthscopeLeader at Season 5, episode 6 – ‘What are management and leadership strengths and how you can get them’.