Stop Trying to Sell Your Strategic Vision

Harvard Business Review tells about an interesting lottery that researchers ran. Half the participants were randomly assigned a lottery number. The remaining half were given a blank piece of paper and asked to make up their own number for their lottery ticket. Just before drawing the winning number, the researchers offered to buy back the tickets. The question researchers wanted to answer is, “How much more do you have to pay someone who ‘wrote their own number’ versus someone who was handed a number randomly?”

The answer? Researchers have always found that they have to pay at least five times more to those who wrote their own number.

What does this have to do with strategic visions? The experiment demonstrates what we may know, but refuse to admit to ourselves. It may seem counterintuitive, but if you really want your strategic vision to become a reality, the key is to involve everyone in helping to create it. Kouzes and Posner say that extraordinary leaders “inspire a shared vision.” I believe the key word is: shared. Here are some ideas to really make the vision a shared vision.

  1. Involve everyone at the beginning of the process. The further along the process has gone, the less leverage a front-line employee has to influence it, and he/she knows that. So, if you genuinely want their input, design the process so that you get it at the beginning.
  2. Listen to the ideas that come from the outside. Innovation always comes from the edge, not the center. Sure, it may come with some barbs and criticisms, but like a beautiful rose comes with a few thorns, great innovations inherently indict the status quo. Don’t sweat it.
  3. Provide “check-in points” from time to time. Don’t let employees feel like you listened and then conveniently forgot what they said. Go back to them from time to time during the process. Give them updates. Ask, “Is this what you meant?” Remember: We are up on what we are in on. What seems like a tedious process will result in a much greater level of employee engagement.
  4. It’s ready when it’s like looking in a mirror—for them! How do you know when you have a great strategic vision? When you share it with your people, they recognize the reflection of their own hopes and aspirations.

Remember that in the experiment, the researchers had to pay five times as much for numbers that people wrote for themselves. If you want people to work harder at fulfilling the strategic vision, give them the chance to help create it. Then they really will own it and work to fulfill it.

Mike Mowery

Written by:
Mike Mowery
Director of Leadership Development, Strategic Government Resources

5 responses

  1. Your post today about making staff feel that it is THEIR vision (and HOW to do that) is related to the old leadership proverb that says “The best Leader is the one about whom the Team says “What does he/she ever do”, meaning that the Leader has so understatedly and seamlessly hired, trained, motivated and empowered staff that they feel as if THEY are doing (and have done) everything.

    1. Our thoughts exactly, David. Thanks for the comment!

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