The Lost Lesson of Sharing: How to Bring Commitment Back to Your Organization
by Elise Boggs
From our first moments of understanding, we are taught by our parents to share with others, but somehow the lesson gets lost along the way to becoming adults in a competitive world. We are taught to hold our cards close and act in our own self-interest as leaders. This lack of “sharing” is evident in the way vision is created and communicated within organizations.
Leaders often have an approach bent towards monologue versus dialogue, which solicits a compliant response and is often short-lived. With people now outliving many of the organizations they work for, soliciting employee loyalty brings a string of benefits in an economy that is unpredictable and in need of constant innovative and creative approaches for survival. Two heads are better than one and many heads are better than the elite few chosen to pass down their vision to everyone else. Much of the untapped creativity and innovative capital available within an organization comes from the people who work within the organization but have never been given a voice to make their mark. So how do leaders help move their people from compliance to commitment?
I learned this lesson in an interesting way. I worked for a large San Diego non-profit that relied heavily on the efforts of volunteers. When the Director of our department resigned unexpectedly and I filled in during the three year interim, they took their vision with them. I realized quickly that in order for us to survive we not only needed to create vision for our new direction, but also secure the commitment of over 100 volunteers to keep the organization from dying. At the time I had just finished my graduate studies in Organizational Leadership and had studied not only the importance of vision (most organizations already know this), but the importance of shared vision. With a new tool in my belt and a new organization to be built, I got first-hand experience of the power of shared vision. Over the course of those three years, I got to witness an organization thrive against all odds. It was a sweet season of untapped potential being realized, people taking ownership of their organizational roles as if they were precious gems, and a shared sense of purpose resulting in unparalleled growth.
So what exactly is shared vision and how does it differ from the singular version passed down by one select individual or elite group to the rest of the organization? It is shared. According to Peter Senge in his book the Five Disciplines “a shared vision is a vision that many people are truly connected to because it reflects their own personal vision” (1990, p.206). This explanation births another question: what is personal vision? Senge adds that personal vision “is rooted in an individual’s own set of values, concerns, and aspirations” (1990, p. 211). When vision is shared the organization shifts from operating as “my” organization to “our” organization. When the organization is seen as a shared commodity, people care for it as their own. They put forth their best efforts and protect it in times of both success and challenge.
Many leaders may view the idea of shared vision as an infringement on their rights as leader to determine the direction of their organization. Shared vision does not strip a leader of this, but enhances it. The leader must still set the overarching vision of the organization to determine clearly why the organization exists and what purposes the organization has been created to fulfill. This is the “what” part of vision; the “how” part of vision is where collaboration takes place as individuals within the organization describe a picture of the organization at its best and realize the significance of the role they play in that being realized. So how does a leader initiate such a process? Here are three steps to get the get the process started.
Leaders must clarify their personal vision.
Without vision there is no direction. In my private consulting/coaching practice, I often ask leaders to articulate the vision of their company. Some recite it verbatim and confuse it with their mission statement, while others go into a long-winded explanation. The leaders that maximize their organization’s potential have a crystal clear vision for their organization. In fact, those leaders that can narrow it down to one word save themselves years of trial and error. Clear vision creates a grid from which to run all decisions through such as: Does pouring funds and manpower into this program support the vision? Does our current budget need to be reallocated in order to pursue our vision? Will hiring this person help us achieve our vision? A clear vision helps leaders to make decisions quickly and eliminates indecisiveness.
Leaders must hire people who share the organization’s vision.
Once leaders have a clear vision, they can determine who best to hire to help them achieve that vision. This is not a knock against diversity of thought, but everyone must agree in the general direction where they are headed. There are plenty of schools that produce successful management and leadership graduates that have proven themselves in the academic environment. On paper, they look like ideal candidates. Even with a few years of seasoning with work experience, they can impress you with their credentials, but be careful. Despite their exterior polish they may not have the heart and indeed the soul to accomplish what you want to build a sustainable organization. It is not as much a matter of smarts as much as it is a matter of heart in creating a vision-centric organization.
Leaders must elicit feedback.
In the hit show Undercover Boss CEO’s go undercover to learn more about the organization at the ground level working in various roles throughout the company in disguise. They learn an enormous amount of information about the processes and systems that undermine the success of their company from those working on the front lines. This show addresses a detrimental gap between higher level leadership and the rest of the organization. This gap can be narrowed when leaders devise safe processes of eliciting feedback. Anonymous feedback doesn’t work because it only provides an opportunity to vent complaints or voice appreciation without accountability and if vision is to be shared, people need to hold themselves accountable within the organization for their voice. The role of the leaders is to create a safe place to do that. The most effective tool I have found to date and have used extensively is Appreciative Inquiry. It was the first tool I used as the interim Director in my former role and it was the tool that brought us into a new season where the foundation for sustainable shared vision was laid.
The tool was created by David Cooperrider and involves four key steps: Discover, Dream, Design, and Delivery. It is a completely different way of soliciting feedback that focuses on the possibilities within an organization rather than fixing problems. The traditional methods of getting feedback drain emotional resources, while AI evokes life-giving energy as people create a picture together of what their ideal organization looks like.
Here is a brief description of the 4 steps:
DISCOVER: The identification of organizational processes that work well.
DREAM: The envisioning of processes that would work well in the future.
DESIGN: Planning and prioritizing processes that would work well.
DESTINY (or DELIVER): The implementation (execution) of the proposed design
This unique feedback model is built on an asset-based approach. Other asset- based approaches such as Strength Finders are also changing how individuals and organizations view personal growth philosophies.
I have adapted some questions based on this model as follows:
Discover: What do you appreciate that is already happening that you hope continues?
Dream: If our organization could fulfill its highest potential, what would you desire more of?
Design: What solutions do you propose for making that dream a reality?
Destiny: What do you envision as your role?
This tool is a great one for beginning the process of creating shared vision. I used it at a leadership retreat and walked away with a room full of 100 people excited about the future and volunteering themselves to see the vision get pushed forward. Three years later these volunteers were still going strong.
When leaders have a clear sense of vision and can articulate it well, can hire the type of people that help them realize that vision and solicit feedback from within their organization, they are well on their way to creating a sense of shared vision that will help take the organization belonging to one to an organization belonging to many.
For more info about creating shared vision within your organization, see the follow up article- The Lost Lesson of Sharing: How to Bring Commitment Back to Your Organization Part 2.
To connect with the author, you can e-mail Elise Boggs at: firstname.lastname@example.org