Office Optional: Establish a Strong Culture in Any Setting
As the EVP of People and Culture here at August Jackson, it’s my goal—both internally at AJ and externally in partnership with our clients—to nurture...
Unfortunately, as important as a strong vision is, articulating one that works is easier said than done. Too often we struggle to cram everything we want to say about our work into one perfect, pithy, fragment of a sentence—or we drown in a five-line paragraph no one will remember in a week.
Vision development can be an abstract and thankless process, but it doesn’t have to be.
At AJ, we put constituency and employee engagement first in vision development by looking beyond the traditional vision statement to develop something we call vision architecture—a comprehensive and practical vision framework that is fully integrated into a group’s identity and culture.
Here’s how we think about it:
We start by working with our clients to create a statement of purpose. Purposeful work is work employees want to engage in, and a well-developed purpose statement gives us the ability to share and communicate the idea that motivates, unites, and brings meaning to a group.
A strong statement of purpose will capture both a team’s own aspirations—its internal push to be bigger, better, or more effective—and the reason for that aspiration—the external “why” that drives them.
For example, if we were working with a health insurance company, a team’s purpose statement might read:
“To lead the industry by simplifying and easing the financial burden for patients battling chronic disease.”
This as an effective statement of purpose because it consolidates and makes memorable the team’s ultimate reason for being (to simplify and ease the financial burden for patients), and its personal aspiration (to lead the industry).
While a powerful purpose like this one is the core idea at the heart of a vision, it can still feel abstract or unattainable if you don’t continue to build around it, which leads us to…
You have a powerful purpose, now it’s time to show purposeful—and practical—progress. How is your team or company working towards its long-term aspirations? What day-to-day work makes your purpose real and attainable, rather than abstract and impossible?
One way to capture this “how” is to develop a goal statement. A strong goal statement grounds your aspirations in the reality of your work. It shows employees and external audiences alike that the tangible work your team does every day moves you forward.
For our fictional health insurance team, this might mean getting more specific and concrete about the team’s work, and who it works for. For example:
“We proactively deliver financial clarity, solutions and relief for people living with chronic diseases.”
If we layer this onto the team’s powerful purpose, we get a group that:
Together, aspirational purpose and practical goals give us the full foundation for our vision—one we can now integrate into a group’s identity and way of working.
A vision isn’t just about what you’ll do how and why, it’s about the people who will do it.
To fully integrate a vision into a group’s culture, we need to look to and understand the employees who make the work possible, and then envision a way of working that suits and empowers them. This means capturing a strong, vision-centered identity that highlights the group’s most important attributes:
We want to describe the team in way that ensures employees see themselves, and we want to link that self-conception to the purpose and goals that bring everyone together.
Once you know the what, how, why, and who of your work, it’s time to tie all the elements of your vision together with concrete, day-to-day actions employees can rally around. We do this by calling out a set of foundational behaviors that establish the norms of a group’s working culture and relationships.
These start with values:
If trust is a core value of your team’s identity and work, you can transform this into a foundational behavior with an active statement of commitment: “We trust each other.” If efficiency is a core value, the behavior may be: “We look for ways to become smarter and more efficient.” Collaboration: “We work as a team.”
The most important thing is that these are easy-to-implement actions employees can use every day—and that people new to your team can use to immediately understand the team’s culture.
Ultimately, these behaviors bring vision to earth and give employees a daily reference for it. They know these behaviors not only reflect who they are as a team, but progress towards a purpose they care about.
An engaging vision is far more than one statement or idea—it’s an organizing principle that every employee can understand, see, or feel.
When we free ourselves to think about vision more comprehensively and create a vision that employees can fully buy into and use, we create a tool that can push every aspect of an organization’s work forward.