“Know yourself and you will win all battles.”
– Sun Tzu
Does your staff really understand your company's long-term vision? And are they working toward making it a reality? Probably not. A 2013 Harvard Business Review article reported that just 30% of employees understand their company's strategy, let alone its vision. That leaves 70% without a clue. In my consulting work, I find these numbers about right for most U.S. production builders, and it's costing them money. Correcting the problem can bring big payoffs, but it requires a mind-shift on the part of most managers.
Before getting into that, let's define the word. By "vision" I mean a long-term, highly aspirational statement of what you want the organization to become. It's different than Mission, which is what you do (as in "we build the highest-quality move-up homes), and strategy, which is the high-level plan for achieving the vision.
The most effective visions are big and audacious. Being the best builder in Greensboro, North Carolina is too limiting—you could pull that off in a few years. Being the best builder in the U.S. will keep your staff challenged for years to come.
A big vision that's properly implemented defines the company culture. And as Peter Drucker once noted, culture trumps strategy. A big vision can also clarify the organization's purpose and serve as a lens that helps staff decide what decisions make the most sense for the company.
Corporate leaders have heard this before, and many companies have crafted what seem to be great visions. Why then have so many employees missed the boat when it comes to grasping their company's vision? It’s because management hasn't done the work needed to get them on board.
I find that most builders prefer to focus on articulating their vision to customers. This should come as no surprise: managers need to burn a lot of their mental energy on addressing external challenges like what their competitors are doing and where housing preferences are moving. These external pressures make them reluctant to stop and address internal issues.
Companies budget tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars for external communication every year. This spending goes toward things like traditional marketing and advertising as well as electronic media that get them in front of prospects and shape the way that they are viewed by the outside world. However, most companies put very little thought or budget dollars into evaluating and optimizing internal communications.
The end result? The vision becomes a vague tagline with little payoff.
Overcoming this is well worth the effort. A clearly communicated vision can inspire, galvanize and motivate every employee to work at driving the company towards the vision. If rather than telling prospects that you are the best builder you work with staff to actually become the best builder, the company's reputation will attract far more qualified home buyers than even the most effective ad campaign.
This investment is analogous to the investment an individual might make in personal well being. Anyone who has experienced the calm brought on by a good session of exercise, yoga, or meditation, or who has taken time off to truly relax and recharge, can attest that doing so ultimately made them more effective in working with the “outside world.”
In a similar way, an organization will be renewed and energized when its leaders engage in Sun Tzu’s ancient tried and true advice to know itself. Taking the time needed to help employees learn and opt into the vision provides a jolt of energy for the company.
To see this in practice, take the example of training. Most builders understand the value of training programs but without a vision their training becomes reactionary. It ends up focused on things like helping the framers and drywallers on quality control after getting a lot of callbacks for nail pops.
Reducing callbacks is important, but a clearly communicated vision reduces the chance of those (and other) problems ever happening. The builder that has embraced the vision to become the highest-quality U.S. builder—and has worked on getting its staff on board—will have taken time to define and flesh out is quality standards. It will have put an ongoing training program in place that encompasses everything from how salespeople interact with prospects to how superintendents inspect wall framing.
For this company, the vision serves as an anchor point, a filter through which it runs all strategic decisions, from which production manager candidate to hire to what options to offer in the design center. The results could include some decisions that seem disadvantageous on the surface but make the company far stronger in the long haul. For instance, the builder might decide to accept slower sales growth this year in favor of recruiting and training the industry's best salespeople, who will drive even greater growth later. Or it may decide to offer fewer options to customers, in order to simplify purchasing and estimating and focus on quality in the options it does offer.
The big question is how to you motivate everyone in the organization to embrace these efforts. The ownership team, the leadership team, managers and all staff all need to learn, embrace, and ultimately drive the vision.
Engaging staff in this effort is critical. Ask key staff to serve on committees and provide feedback. Get their input on what they think makes the company outstanding, what makes it a great place to work, what makes it something they're proud to be part of. You may even ask them to vote to accept/buy-into the vision.
Whatever the methodology you use to engage staff, make sure that you and the other senior leaders in your company tell them what being a part of this organization means to you. Share with them your personal passion and the excitement you feel every time that you see another family move into one of your homes. Communicating your feelings about the company will help others to buy in and realize that they can be part of something truly unique and special.
These tactics help to make the vision and mission development or redevelopment process more collaborative, more inclusive and more successful. The ultimate aim is to come up with something that fits the company and its culture, is highly aspirational, and will still work 15-20 years from now.
If you already have a company vision, start by having your leadership team review it. Maybe ask your staff to weigh in on what inspires them to work for your company. Also ask other aspirational questions, like what would inspire them to look at this organization as the last stop on their career journey. These conversations can help you determine if your existing vision and mission need to be revamped, what direction you should take in changing them or in creating a new vision and mission if they don’t already exist.
Use every communication means available—newsletters, management meetings, informal conversations—to continue driving home how these critical ideas connect with your organization, staff and industry. Identify the people in your organization who have the most influence over employee attitudes. Put special effort into getting them onboard with the vision and helping them communicate it to the rest of the staff.
A big payoff to this work is that it's one area that's almost impossible for your competitors to copy. The way that a homebuilding company executes on its internal communications is almost by definition unique and can become a very defensible competitive advantage. And because so few companies in our industry are doing internal communications well, there's a ripe opportunity for some builders to claim this space as their own.
If you can’t get excited about that, maybe you should be in a different business!