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: jeff@wolfmotivation.com or 858-638-8260

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Is Work a Laughing Matter?

Perhaps you’ve noticed tomorrow is April Fool’s? With that in mind, the following is a guest post by Kit Goldman. Is Work a Laughing Matter? first appeared in Wolf in the Workplace, the newsletter of Wolf Management Consultants, LLC.

It’s been said that laughter is a survival skill in the often intense atmosphere of the workplace.

Well, guess what? It actually is.

If you Google “health benefits of laughter”, you get 2,240,000 14,000,000+ results. The secret is out! Laughter is a great way to promote physical and mental health, key ingredients for a high performing workplace.

Laughter boosts the immune system, lowers stress hormones, decreases pain, relaxes muscles, prevents heart disease and lowers anxiety, among many other benefits.

Laughter is part of the universal human vocabulary. It signals acceptance, positive interaction and membership in a group. There are thousands of languages, but everyone speaks laughter in pretty much the same way. Babies can laugh long before they speak. Children born without sight and hearing have an inherent ability to laugh.

Laughter is uniquely, innately human – like each of us!

As long as the source of laughter is not offensive, hurtful, or at someone else’s expense, mirthful moments at work can foster harmony and teamwork. Laughter can also help reduce conflict. It’s a lot harder to argue and stay mad at someone when you’ve shared some healthy laughter!

Some people would like to give the gift of laughter, but are afraid to take the risk. A well known survey shows that for many, speaking in public is their number one fear in life. Death was number 2! As Seinfeld observed, “At a funeral most people would rather be in the coffin then giving the eulogy!”

So… if you’d like to improve your humor proficiency and confidence, ask yourself these questions:

  • In a seemingly serious situation, what nuggets of humor can I find?
  • When faced with a potentially difficult situation, could humor help? Could it lead to a better outcome?
  • Am I funnier than I think I am? Less funny? Who will give me an honest assessment of my sense of humor?
  • Could I start my next meeting or conversation with a funny story?
  • What are the humorous situations in my life that have taught me something?

Here are some tips for keeping laughter safe and appropriate for the workplace:

  • Never joke about co-workers’ sexuality. You see the headlines about Sexual harassment. Don’t become one!
  • Don’t joke about people’s appearance. That is an emotionally charged area.
  • Stay away from religion, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation.
  • Avoid joking about bodily functions.

Yes, yes, we are talking about keeping your humor politically correct in the workplace. This can be challenging if the atmosphere of your workplace is down-to-earth and “family-style”. However, we must resist the urge to approach the boundary of harassment for a laugh. It’s not worth it! You can achieve healthy humor that enriches and enhances your workplace without it. Stick with humor everyone can enjoy, support, relax with — goodhearted laughter that gives those great mental and physical perks!

So… what are some fairly safe “targets” for getting laughs?

  • Yourself! Your own flaws and quirks. Making lighthearted jokes about yourself puts people at ease and brings them closer to you. They can relate. Humility is charming!
  • Situations you all face, i.e. new regulations, how busy it is, the industry, difficult customers you all deal with (with no customers present, of course!)
  • Personal characteristics with low ego-involvement. Most of us are sensitive about appearance, but we’re less invested in other aspects of ourselves. For example, I don’t mind colleagues sharing laughter with me about my bad handwriting, my raucous laugh, or how grumpy I am when I get up at 5 a.m. for pilates and there’s no coffee going when I get there! They do it with affection for who I am, not with disdain or ridicule.

We’ve been using humor as a powerful training tool for 20+ years. We’ve learned that people are much more open to learn when we laugh together. Even the most resistant employees are engaged and enlightened once we get them to relax and laugh a little!

 

Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Work/Life Balance

Photo of escalators at a mall during the holiday season.

Photo courtesy of FidelerJan at MorgueFile.com

It’s a retail tradition in the U.S. that the holiday shopping season starts the day after Thanksgiving on Black Friday. Retailers slash prices of selected merchandise, sometimes as much as 50 percent or more, to attract buyers and get the jump on Christmas sales. The lower prices are a bonanza for consumers and it shows in the massive number of happy shoppers who park outside retailers like Wal-Mart, Sears, Target and Best Buy many hours in advance of store openings. Those store openings are no longer confined to 5 am. Each successive Black Friday, retailers try to cram in more hours. Many now open at midnight.

Unfortunately, the joy that shoppers experience through buying a $1000 TV for $350 isn’t extended to employees of those stores who are forced to cut their Thanksgiving holiday short and come to work, many times Thanksgiving night.

Some retailers are bucking the trend. REI, the outdoor and camping equipment retailer, shocked the retailing industry by announcing it will be shutting down its stores for Black Friday this year and paying all of its 12,000 employees for the time off. In a letter to REI employees, company CEO Jerry Stritzke wrote:

 On November 27, we’ll be closing all 143 of our stores and paying our employees to head outside. Here’s why we’re doing it:

 

For 76 years, our co-op has been dedicated to one thing and one thing only: a life outdoors. We believe that being outside makes our lives better. And Black Friday is the perfect time to remind ourselves of this essential truth.

 

We’re a different kind of company—and while the rest of the world is fighting it out in the aisles, we’ll be spending our day a little differently. We’re choosing to opt outside, and want you to come with us.

The restaurant Chick-fil-A is a pioneer in work-life balance. Its founder Truett Cathy recognized the importance of rest for his employees when he first shut down on Sunday, a practice the restaurant has maintained since 1946. But Chick-fil-A has been the rare exception.

Until this year. Many retailers such as Costco, T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, Pier One Imports, and a host of others, now plan to at least shut down all day Thanksgiving, while remaining open for Black Friday. Lately Thanksgiving has been seen as one of the most important shopping days of the year, so this trend can be viewed as a welcome one for employees at these stores.

Asking That Important Question

I believe this change stems in part from leaders who are increasingly concerned that employees who work excessively long hours, especially around the holidays, are not as engaged nor as motivated as those employees who are provided the opportunity to balance work-life issues.

Leaders are beginning to recognize the need of employees (and the leaders themselves) to slow down, enjoy life, and replenish their energy supply daily. Having a balanced life takes into account all of their needs, including family, friends, work, play, private time, exercise, and spiritual time. It’s a matter of getting priorities straight.

They’re asking theses important questions: What’s essential for our employees? Do they live to work or work to live? These are simple, yet critical, questions. Working to live should pay the bills while bringing them satisfaction. Living to work, however, means they are likely making sacrifices in other areas of their lives: marriage, family time, going out with friends, hobbies, recreation, exercise, and other aspects of healthful living.

Anna Quindlen, the Pulitzer-Prize winning columnist, put it best. In a graduation speech at Villanova University, she advised students and graduates to “get a life.” Quindlen, who at 19 lost her mother to breast cancer, meant a real life, “not a manic pursuit of the next promotion, bigger paycheck, or larger house. Do you think you’d care so much about those things if you blew an aneurysm one afternoon, or found a lump in your breast? Get a life in which you notice the smell of saltwater pushing itself on a breeze over Seaside Heights, a life in which you stop and watch how a red-tailed hawk circles over the Delaware Water Gap, or the way a baby scowls with concentration when she tries to pick up a Cheerio with her thumb and first finger.”

It wouldn’t surprise me to see this trend continue. Partly because in recent years the start of the holiday shopping season has been shifted all the way back to Halloween, which extends the holiday shopping period for retailers that need to demonstrate annual sales gains. And also partly because leaders are recognizing that paying attention to the well-being of employees translates to employee motivation and retention.

Workplace Bullies and Abrasive Leadership Coaching

The following is a guest post by Frank Faeth. Workplace Bullies and Abrasive Leadership Coaching first appeared in Wolf in the Workplace, the newsletter of Wolf Management Consultants, LLC.

Workplace bullying is rampant. According to a Workplace Bullying Institute survey, “more than a third of adult Americans report being bullied at work, and 15 percent witness it and are made miserable.”

Sadly, most of us don’t know how to counter the bully’s bad behavior. Oftentimes, the bully is a star performer, making it even harder for both management and human resource executives to confront the looming problem. Employers frequently don’t act, even though keeping an abusive leader onboard is often more risky and costly than pursuing solutions.

The first thing human resource executives can do is to understand what makes a bully tick, and know when calling in an executive coach is a viable course of action.

Abrasive leaders at any level can inflict deep wounds and intense suffering in employees. The organization often experiences the pain of working with an abrasive executive, manager, or supervisor as well, eroding effectiveness and paralyzing productivity. Few of us have escaped the pain of working under, over, or with an abrasive leader.

An abrasive leader is someone in a managerial position whose interpersonal behavior causes emotional distress in coworkers sufficient to disrupt organizational functioning. The intensity and extent can be wide-ranging, from minor and infrequent incidents to more extreme manifestations of aggression.

Abrasive leaders tend to:

  • Perceive coworker incompetence as a direct threat to their own competence
  • Employ aggression to defend against the perception of incompetence
  • Believe use of aggression is not just necessary to achieve organizational goals, but noble as well
  • Deny any role in generating negative perceptions about themselves
  • Be entirely unaware or only minimally aware of the nature and degree of their destructive impact on coworkers

Research indicates that abrasive leaders do not intentionally commit harm as is commonly believed, and are not fully aware of their action or the wounds they inflict.

Coaching abrasive leaders is not straightforward. Any perceived threats to their professional competence will be vigorously defended against with the fight mechanism and interpersonal aggression. Because they need to demonstrate their superiority, in the classic coaching process they experience immediate and intense anxiety and defend against these threats.

By the time a coach is called in, the leader’s interpersonal incompetence overshadows his or her technical competence, and the organization’s negative perceptions now threaten the leader’s professional survival. This leads to two difficulties for the coach: 1) Forming a trusted coaching alliance; and 2) Engaging the client despite their denial of a need for coaching.

So what does a coach do?

The client engages the coach as his co-researcher, interviewing coworkers to discover the negative perceptions and identifying what causes them. The findings give the coach and client an opportunity to develop strategies to eliminate negative perceptions and to manage them out of existence. The data collected informs the client of the nature and degree of the distress generated, helping remove the blinders blocking the client’s awareness of other’s emotions.

The key difference here versus more classic executive coaching is that we’ve moved from eliminating negative client behaviors to eliminating negative coworker perceptions. By doing so, the leader can fight against perceived threats to his competence and help them

My interview with The Michael Dresser Show

Last week I was interviewed by Michael Dresser on his BlogTalk Radio program. We covered leadership, succession planning, a changing workplace with multiple generations working together. I hope you’ll give it a listen!

The Michael Dresser Show features authors and experts from all over the country and worldwide who offer solutions to the listening audience on all types of lifestyle matters as well as business and financial areas of interest. He is well known for getting to the heart of the issue at hand with his thought-provoking talk.

Listen to my interview on The Michael Dresser Show.