Using The Billboard Effect To Develop and Obtain Employee Buy-In On The Leader’s Vision

by Jeff Wolf

Time to Read: 2 minutes

Warren Bennis, acclaimed scholar, author and advisor to corporation presidents said “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” Well expressed, but it’s easier said than done. What’s needed are practical steps to develop a communicable vision coupled with practical steps to achieve employee buy in.

Notice that I emphasized the word practical, because unless the leader’s vision is easy to understand, believable and clearly stated, even the most imaginative vision will become just another page in the employee manual gathering dust.

Let’s first define “billboard effect” and how it translates into developing a workable vision that achieves employee buy-in. A billboard is the visual image of the leader’s vision. In few but meaningful words it paints a picture of what the company and its people stand for and what it wants to achieve. It is future oriented and describes where the company expects to be tomorrow and from there onward.

Next, let’s examine steps in developing the vision, then steps in getting the organization’s people to buy into that vision.

Developing The Vision

  • Highly effective leaders have big ideas. Small ideas are okay, but they’re not transformative. Big ideas help companies and employees face the challenges of tomorrow. This is no better expressed than Robert Kennedy quoting George Bernard Shaw: “Some men see things as they are and say, ‘Why?’ I dream of things that never were, and say, ‘Why not?’ “Companies with leaders who have the imagination and drive to adopt big ideas are the Apples and Googles and Ubers of tomorrow. Those big ideas are nurtured by leaders who make astute observations of their companies and their industries, and then reflect and decide what visions need to be in place to handle tomorrow’s problems and opportunities.
  • Reflection is the stimulus that leads to big ideas, but leaders know that clear and careful expression of their visions must be committed to writing. The process of writing clarifies visions such that they can be robustly expressed in words that command the organization’s attention.
  • With the visions now distinctly articulated, leaders can construct and post billboards throughout the organization and express their visions during talks with members of the organization. These billboards, reduced to clear maxims, concisely reflect those visions. For example, “Our company will take whatever measures needed to assure that product quality satisfies our customers . . . or we will return their money without question.” That is both clear and unambiguous. And it sets the stage for transformation of the organization to achieve that vision.
  • Leaders should be prepared to tweak, modify, even change vision statements when those visions aren’t producing expected When it comes to visions nothing is set in stone. The mark of a highly effective leader is the willingness to forgo ego and do what is right for the organization. The best of leaders prepare alternate plans.

Buying Into The Vision

  • I would argue that the very first prerequisite for employee buy in is to simply listen to what employees think and say about their jobs and the company’s direction. Keeping an open ear is crucial. And don’t get distracted by their complaints. Remember that engaged employees, those who really care about the company, expose many of the organization’s problems and lost opportunities through complaints. This is a great chance for leaders to make positive changes based on worthwhile employee suggestions.
  • I would become suspicious if employees don’t gripe. That means their voices are being throttled, and that is the absolute worst situation of all.
  • Employees need positive reinforcement. They won’t buy into a faulty vision, one that is not productive. That implies going beyond the stage of encouraging them to speak freely. It means measuring how successful the company’s vision is working. Take the quality example mentioned before. How are employees (or managers for that matter) going to know how successful their efforts are without measureable feedback? That means providing them with yardsticks of performance. It entails, in this example, weekly or monthly reports on rejects, scrap, customer complaints and customer returns, with as much data as possible reflecting individual employee performance.
  • Additionally, to combat what I call “vision tedium,” employees need to know how effective the company has been pursuing its vision long-term. Quarterly and annual postings will tell the tale along with periodic meetings with employee groups.
  • Leaders should put in place a follow-up procedure (possibly an annual review) because employee buy in of vision is not a one-time event. Constant follow-up is required to assure that employees remain engaged, informed and responsive to emerging problems. One of the difficulties of either a mature or growing organization is that leaders stop emphasizing company priorities and changes in priorities. They may delegate vision just as they delegate tasks, but the two are not equal. Vision remains both the prerogative and responsibility of organization leaders.

Now is the time to enhance the leadership skills of the leaders in your organization.

Contact us today for more information about our Leadership Development Program or to have Jeff Wolf coach your leaders and high potential leaders.

If you are having a meeting, conference or convention, bestselling author Jeff Wolf is available to speak about leadership and a variety of topics.

Contact Jeff directly at: or 858-638-8260

Follow me on Twitter:!/JeffWolfUSA
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Take A Summer Vacation This Year


by Jeff Wolf

How many times have you heard your boss tell you that? In fact, how many times have you told your employees that?

Come on, fess up. Either case is as rare as a drenching rain in the Sahara. Let’s face it. Too many bosses discourage employees from taking more than a day off or a weekend here and there. And even then they don’t discourage a barrage of phone calls from work and many will expect employees to check their email several times a day. A two-week getaway to the Far East? Not a chance.

Every year, the media reports on surveys showing that large chunks of U.S. workers don’t plan on taking all their vacation time. Why does this happen, when it’s part of a worker’s compensation package? Large percentages of workers wouldn’t pass on a company-sponsored life insurance plan, or forgo a paycheck for all of December, so why are so many people willingly (or perhaps not so willingly) giving their paid time off back to their employers?

Forbes Magazine contributor Kristi Hedges nails the explanation: “The idea of a skimpy vacation as a worthy sacrifice or badge of honor is culturally embedded. The U.S. is the only rich country to not have legally mandated paid vacation and holidays.” She goes on, “science tells us that this is a very bad idea. Increasingly, studies are showing that breaks of any kind are not only good for you; they can actually increase productivity and well-being.”

Long Vacations Benefit Both Company and Employee

To create a lasting change in their organization, and maybe even greater society at large, leaders must fully embrace the practical benefits of vacations. Good leaders will be more inclined to not only grant, but also encourage employees to take not just a couple of long weekends here and there-and maybe a week off in the summer-but longer vacation time. Employees come back from a full week (or two or three) of time off when they were able to truly disconnect from work energized and recharged, with better ideas, a fresh perspective, lower stress-levels, and genuine excitement to tackle work challenges that can become overwhelming without time to recharge. Truly effective leaders recognize the value of paid time off, and understand it’s key to a productive and engaged workforce.

Here are specific steps leaders can take to make sure this happens:

  • Issue specific company policies that encourage all employees of the organization to take all vacation days due them, and in any increments they prefer.
  • Be clear the time off must not interfere with mission critical work, but also be clear that one person’s week off shouldn’t incapacitate a well-run department, and that while every department has busier times on the calendar, it is normal and expected that departments will experience slower times periodically throughout the year.
  • Require that all managers and supervisors conduct short meetings with their employees explaining the vacation policy.
  • Ask employees for feedback regarding perceived problems with the vacation policy. Since many employees may feel constrained to speak up, use a suggestion box where they can offer suggestions or voice complaints.
  • Assure that all complaints and suggestions are answered by a third-party, such as Human Resources.
  • Follow-up yearly to make sure the new vacation policy is working.

As we head in to the height of the summer, when friends and family frequently plan reunions, couples get married, families with children have the freedom to travel, as leaders it’s our job to help facilitate these getaways. Your employees will thank you for it, and ultimately, your bottom line will thank you for it too.

Jeff Wolf is the author of Seven Disciplines of a Leader and founder and president of Wolf Management Consultants, LLC, a premier global consulting firm that specializes in helping people, teams and organizations achieve maximum effectiveness.

Contact us today to discuss how we may partner with you to develop your current and future leaders or to have Jeff Wolf speak at your next meeting, conference or convention: Michael Adams 858-638-8260 or


Building an Optimal Team – Team Health

By Jeff Wolf –  Seven Disciplines of a Leader

All the competitive advantages – strategy, technology, finance, marketing – that we’ve pursued in the past are gone. The disciplines haven’t disappeared, but they have lost their power as meaningful competitive advantages, as real differentiators that can set your company apart. Why? Virtually every organization has access to the best thinking and practices on those topics. As information has become ubiquitous, it’s almost impossible to sustain an advantage based on intellectual ideas.

However, one simple, reliable, and virtually free competitive advantage remains – team health. Healthy teams all but eliminate politics and confusion from their cultures. As a result, productivity and morale soar, and good people almost never leave. For those leaders who are a bit skeptical, rest assured that none of this is touchy-feely or soft. It is as tangible and practical as anything else…and even more important.

Even the smartest team will eventually fail if it is unhealthy. But a healthy team will find a way to succeed. Without politics and confusion, it will become smarter and tap into all of the intelligence and talent it has.

Team health requires real work and discipline, maintained over time, and the courage to objectively confront problems hindering true team achievement. Leaders must confront themselves, their peers, and the dysfunction within their teams with honesty and persistence. Persistent leaders walk into uncomfortable situations and address issues that prevent them from realizing the potential that eludes them.

Four Disciplines

To get healthy, leaders need to take four simple, but difficult, steps:

  1. Build a cohesive leadership team. Get the leaders of the organization to behave in a functional, cohesive way. If the people responsible for running a team, department, or organization are behaving in dysfunctional ways, then that dysfunction will cascade down and prevent organizational health. And yes, there are concrete steps a leadership team can take to prevent this.
  1. Create clarity. Ensure that the members of that leadership team are intellectually aligned around simple but critical questions. Leaders need to be clear on topics such as why the organization exists and what the most important priority is for the next few months, and eliminate any gaps between them   Then people who work one, two, or three levels below have clarity about what they should do to make the organization successful.
  1. Overcommunicate clarity. After the first two steps (behavioral and intellectual alignment), leaders can take the third step: over-communicating. Leaders of healthy organizations constantly repeat themselves and reinforce what is true and important. They err on the side of saying too much, rather than too little.
  1. Reinforce clarity. Leaders use simple human systems to reinforce clarity in answering critical questions. They custom design any process that involves people from hiring and firing to performance management and decision-making to support and emphasize the uniqueness of the organization.

Healthy teams get better at meetings. Without making a few simple changes to the way meetings happen, a team will struggle to maintain its health. Healthy teams rarely fail. When politics, ambiguity, dysfunction, and confusion are reduced to a minimum, people are empowered to design products, serve customers, solve problems, and help one another. Healthy teams recover from setbacks, attract the best people, and create exciting opportunities. People are happier, the bottom line is stronger, and executives are at peace when they know they’ve fulfilled their most important responsibility: creating a culture of success.

Applying the principles of great performance is hard, but the effects of deliberate practice are cumulative. The more of a head start you get in developing people, the more difficult it will be for competitors to catch you.

–Jeff Wolf

Contact us today to discuss how we can partner together to help develop and grow your leaders and teams:, 858-638-8260 or

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Leadership in Crisis: 8 Steps to Avoid Pitfalls

Leadership in Crisis: Take 8 Steps to Avoid Pitfalls first appeared in Wolf in the Workplace, the newsletter of Wolf Management Consultants, LLC.

In the news, we read countless stories of rampant political corruption, financial mismanagement, government bailouts, pandemic layoffs, investment fraud and unadulterated corporate greed.

As leaders, we must avoid potential pitfalls, making a concerted effort to keep people motivated and productive, while building teams and reducing stress.

To maintain a healthy, disciplined work force, take eight steps:

Step 1: Flaunt your honesty.

Today’s leaders must be honest, forthright and “ooze” integrity. Workers want their leaders to be role models whose allegiances and priorities are beyond reproach.

Leaders must have a strong character and integrity, which means “walking the walk” and “talking the talk.” The moment they bend the truth, they lose their credibility—and they’ll never get it back.

Step 2: Focus on your people.

People make a company. Without highly motivated and inspired employees, you will struggle to survive and thrive.

Great leaders motivate people to work together and achieve goals, instill confidence and earn employees’ trust—a commodity that can never be bought.

Step 3: Develop a vision.

Have a clear, compelling and inspiring vision—and communicate in a way that motivates and inspires people to work as a team toward common goals.

Clearly define and paint an exciting path to the future, while providing ethical and logical reasons as to why you’re moving in a specific direction. Articulate a clear framework and provide a cogent message that delineates each person’s role in realizing the vision. This builds support and enthusiasm, creating a culture where people are aligned and eager to help achieve goals.

Spark people’s imaginations of what the future holds.

Step 4: Correct negative habits and behaviors.

People leave organizations because of the boss. Poor leaders create a climate of negativity, coupled with rare—or no—praise and recognition. The inability to keep one’s word, poor treatment of people, taking credit for others’ successes, and blaming others to cover up mistakes a leader has made—are behaviors that result in high turnover and a lack of engagement by those who stay.

By failing to delegate or empower people, poor leaders then micromanage others’ work. Their inability or refusal to develop a culture of trust deprives people of opportunities to grow. If this behavior goes unchecked, there may be a point of no return that destroys a once-productive company. Poor leadership is often correctable— if swift corrective action is taken.

Step 5: Invest in training.

Most first-rate leaders aren’t born with extraordinary abilities; rather, they develop their skill sets by learning, practicing and refining them daily.

Leaders must commit to working hard, adopting a positive attitude, and seek constant learning. They must remain flexible, adapting their leadership style as circumstances dictate.

Aspiring leaders must create a development plan, put it in writing and then “work it.”

  • Read the best books and attend the best training courses. Vary courses so you can experience a spectrum of skills.
  • Learn the areas in which you must improve. We see some of our weaknesses, but it’s impossible to identify all of them. Working with a coach is a powerful way to improve your skills.
  • Learn what your company looks for in its leaders. Study a competency model that identifies desired strengths and characteristics and practice them. If no such model exists, seek out successful leaders, and talk with them to understand how they became successful.
  • Volunteer to lead small projects that provide useful leadership experiences. You’ll gain confidence and enhance skill sets.
  • Use 360° feedback and other assessment tools to identify leadership competencies and skills. This provides a valid measure of the areas that require work.
  • Always be curious. Seek new opportunities and experiences; try something out of your comfort zone.

Step 6: Develop leadership programs.

Use coaching to enhance the capabilities and performance of leaders, high potentials, and top producers. When leaders coach, people become more confident and motivated, which leads to higher performance and productivity. Leaders build relationships of trust when they support people so they can be all they can be. Organizations with a strong coaching culture develop higher engagement and performance.

A coach will ask: At what do people excel? What are the weaknesses, potential, limitations, desired directions? A coach works one on one with key personnel to stop bad habits and start positive ones. Participants can discuss what’s working—and not working—in confidence, and the coach holds them accountable and supplies support.

Step 7: Retain high performers.

Great organizations view employee retention as a competitive advantage, and they work hard to retain their most talented people. They understand that talented people are their most important asset.

Retention starts with culture. If you want to keep your top talent, you must create an inspiring and energizing culture of which they can be a part. This means having an organization with shared values, openness and honesty, thereby creating trust and allowing talented people to share ideas, and then recognize and reward their successes.

Step 8: Have fun!

You and your people should be excited and energized about going to work every day. After all, you spend one-third of your time at work.

Fun in the workplace must be part of your strategy. Working hard and having fun are not mutually exclusive. So, appoint two CFOs; the traditional CFO and the chief fun officer, who creates ways for people to have fun at work.

People rarely succeed at anything unless they have fun doing it. Having fun also impacts the bottom line. Fun breeds creativity, energy, productivity, innovation, and profitability—a win for all concerned.


5 Simple Ways to Lead in Uncertain Times

5 Simple Ways to Lead in Uncertain Times first appeared in Wolf in the Workplace, the newsletter of Wolf Management Consultants, LLC.

Photo of people around a desk.

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Leadership today, due to uncertain economic times, plays an even more important role than ever before. The role of a leader now means more than just managing the bottom line. It means always remembering that your first priority is your people. Great leaders never forget that their employees are the keys to an organization’s success!

As an executive coach, consultant and former CEO, I have had the opportunity to work with hundreds of successful leaders at every level who perpetuate the growth of their companies, departments or teams.

I have found that successful leaders practice the following Five Simple Leadership Skills—all based on developing people. The result of implementing these skills keeps people focused, reduces anxieties and fears, reduces turnover, and makes employees feel loyal and positive about the company they work for.

1. Communication

The late Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, said, “Communicate everything to your associates (he called everyone an associate); the more they know the more they care. Once they care, there is no stopping them.” Because of the downturn in the economy, people feel vulnerable and overwhelmed. They are also worried about cutbacks and layoffs. Communicate everything to them by letting them know what is happening in your company, team or department. Open the lines of communication with everyone and let them know that you care not only about their involvement in the workplace, but in their personal lives as well. A leader places a high value on human capital

2. Praise

When you praise people you inspire loyalty and encourage them to perform great work. Praising also creates positive energy in companies when people are continually being praised for doing good work. Great leaders go out of their way to praise people. I like to call it, “Catching people doing something right!” When praising people, do it in a timely fashion, make it specific and try to make it public in front of their peer group. Use statements such as, “Thanks for getting that report in so quickly. You handled that situation nicely. That was an interesting point you brought up in the meeting. We couldn’t have done it without your help. I can see you’re improving in that area; keep up the good work. Your contribution is really making a difference on this project.” Leaders realize that people drive organizations. Praising your people will keep them motivated, inspired and full of positive energy!

3. Humor

People rarely succeed at anything unless they have fun doing it! Humor helps people through tough times, reduces absenteeism and brings them closer together. Many major companies believe so strongly in having fun at work that they now have two CFOs, the traditional Chief Financial Officer and a Chief Fun Officer. Humor in the workplace reduces stress and absenteeism. When people are having fun and laughing, the brain produces a chemical called endorphins, which helps heal the body and makes them feel good. Humor breeds creativity. People are more willing to take chances and be more creative if they don’t have to worry about making mistakes and can laugh at their mistakes. Humor also helps workplace relations by opening up lines of communication and gets people united. Leadership has to set the tone. Laugh at yourself and you will find that your employees will find you more approachable and that having a good time at work is acceptable.

4. Empowerment

Great leaders realize that in order to be successful they have to create more leaders at all levels of the organization. Empower your people; nurture the development of leaders. Don’t just delegate work; delegate decision-making powers to people. When people have the authority to make important decisions, they feel part of the organization, and they are more likely to remain part of the organization. You will make your people better and more motivated. By empowering your people, you are allowing them to reach their potential. When you fail to empower people, barriers are created that people cannot overcome. If these barriers remain long enough people give up and leave. Many of those people go on to become great leaders at other organizations.

5. Coaching

Coaching is a process that increases productivity, builds teamwork, motivates employees to elevate performance levels and helps people overcome obstacles to their success. A great leader spends time working with individuals to see the blocks in their performance. A successful leader and effective coach are one in the same. People do not and will not change until they see the need to. A good coach listens to people to find ways to break down the barriers that keep people from reaching their full potential. They must then work with their people to outline a plan of action that clearly states the goals for improvement and accountability. Coaching helps people learn, grow and change. It provides a powerful structure through which people can focus on specific outcomes, become more effective, and stay on track.

The success or failure of an organization and their people during these uneasy and turbulent times lies in the hands of its leaders. Uncertainty calls for strong leadership that can successfully guide people through troubling times. Your people need to become inspired and motivated to help them adjust and be productive employees. By utilizing these Five Simple Leadership Skills, you will see how attitudes will be changed and the workplace will become a very positive and nurturing environment.