In our work with business leaders around the world, we spend a lot of time talking about the organizational philosophies and cultures needed to guide and nurture innovation in their business. One of the key questions we are often asked is, "how can we drive engagement and ownership within and across our business for these new things we are trying to do?"
The answer I consistently come back to – and the one thing that has always worked for me in my own business leadership – is to cast an audacious vision.
How to cast an audacious vision?
What I mean by this – aside from whatever stated mission an organization may have reflecting who they fundamentally are – is a statement that paints for them a very new future... one that captures their imagination and at the same time presents for them a significant stretch goal.
Some examples might include:
- "We will be the Number One provider of 'x' in the world!"
- "We will be recognized as the sole leader in the field of 'x'!"
- "We will rise to the occasion of being the sole business who drives the future course of the 'x' market!"
Notice what these all have in common. First, they all paint a strong, compelling image of who the enterprise is to become in the future, not who it is today. They represent a transformation... a sometimes daunting transformation. And transformation will always involve a journey – often a challenging one, but one that will build a sense of community and produce with it a story worthy of being called a legacy. Second, they are about who the enterprise is to be, rather than what the enterprise is to do. As such, they transcend any one effort or goal, like "putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade"... something that is ephemeral and has an end date, and instead produce a potentially much longer burn by being about the "who" as much as the "what". It is implicit in the vision that the organization will need to accomplish some rather extraordinary things if they are to become this extraordinary entity – that is the power of the vision. And even when they do eventually achieve this audacious vision, there will always be new ways to raise the bar and recast a new, equally audacious, vision – either vertically within a market, or horizontally across markets (including within entirely new markets they happen to create).
On numerous occasions I have used this very method in my own leadership with great success. In each case, what I have witnessed has been nothing short of phenomenal. People who would otherwise be ordinary "clock–stampers" start to change. For them, it no longer is about coming to a job every day and putting in their time in exchange for a paycheck (the transactional treadmill). Instead, it becomes about waking up every day to be a part of a movement... part of doing something worth investing their lives in... something audacious to aim for. This really does change people and their behaviors. And when that happens, the conversation changes as well... we stop talking about things like "engagement", "empowerment", and "ownership". Instead, we start talking about how we can work together to change the world for the better – we use the language of movements. This inherently engages people without ever having to use the "e" word.
And in the context of pursuing breakthrough and disruptive innovations for Horizon 2 and 3 growth, it simply becomes a matter of tying those initiatives to this audacious vision. Once that has been done, passion tends to do the rest in terms of driving the innovations forward.
Role of a vision in engaging people at work
So, for all would-be world-changing business leaders out there struggling to engage your people in your strategic growth efforts, my challenge to you is this... cast an audacious vision for becoming something much more than you are today – and really, really mean it and show you mean it by backing it up with your own actions, including giving clear strategic directions and investing in the initiatives. Then get out of the way and let yourself be amazed at what your people will do to deliver on that vision. The vision will do far more than any artificial pep talk you could ever give, or any transactional incentive you could ever offer. When it's all said and done, you probably will have changed the world, and along with it, yourselves as well.
About the author
Anthony Mills is the Executive Director of Global Innovation Institute (GInI), CEO of Legacy Innovation Group, and adviser to several advisory boards. He is an established and influential business executive skilled in conceiving and driving transformational strategies that deliver growth, leadership, and profitability. He has led multiple new business launches in both Fortune 100 enterprises and new startups. From defining new business platforms and go-to-market strategies, to designing and delivering new product categories, he has successfully launched numerous new lines of business and filled a variety of roles along the way.