A senior executive recently shared his company’s growth plan. The highlight was “Journey’s End*” — a vision of the company some 18 months in the future. He was very excited. “Here’s what it’s really all about though…” and flipped the page in the deck to financial metrics. Growth targets, gross revenue, churn, profit. He then spent his time describing journey’s end by the numbers. Yawn.
Vision by numbers is de rigueur in business. I would bet it’s the way it’s done in your company.
Examples abound. A global IT Transformation described as 6×6 — six stated goals by 2006. 15 by 15 — 15% EBITDA by 2015. I’m not sure who started this communication trend, perhaps Jack Welch, icon of industry, darling of business pundits (and former successful General Electric CEO) who in the 90’s declared that “70-70-70″ would be his company’s rule for sending technology work offsite: 70% would be done by outside suppliers, 70% of that overseas, and 70% of that in India. Welch’s vision was to recreate the company using Indian resources.
Imagine telling the kids that you’re going on a family trip to Paris, city of lights, and describing it as a trip of 3,504 miles, or a 7 hour 40 minute flight time. What’s more exciting, 7/40 or a trip to Paris, the city of love? You want people engaged and excited about your vision.
There is a lot of 6×6 or 15 by 15, sometimes even spiced up with a rock the 8. This sloganeering is easy to do, but isn’t effective. You want to engage people around your vision, you want them to remember your strategy and get them excited about your mission.
Not just what.
Numbers are a measure of progress. Pounds lost, miles jogged, revenue gained. They describe a target very well. But it’s a what. What isn’t what we are inspired by, where is. Think about Ronald Reagan, the great communicator, describing America as a “shining city on a hill.”
“I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it and see it still”
A Where and A Why.
According to Simon Sinek’s golden circle of communication, humans function better with a why. That’s why (I know) JFK didn’t just talk about where we were going in 1962 (the moon) but why.
“But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?
We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”
Say it with simple words.
You want people to understand, engage with, and remember your vision. The goal is the same as in any communication – to frame the way people see the world and move them to action. You will notice that Kennedy and Reagan didn’t use numbers in communicating their vision, nor did they use complex words. Numbers simply aren’t memorable. That’s why we call 1-800-flowers and not 1-800-3566377. Contrast these two vision statements, the first, with big words and long sentences that could be anyone’s,
“Guided by relentless focus on our five imperatives, we will constantly strive to implement the critical initiatives required to achieve our vision. In doing this, we will deliver operational excellence in every corner of the Company and meet or exceed our commitments to the many constituencies we serve. All of our long-term strategies and short-term actions will be molded by a set of core values that are shared by each and every associate.” – Albertsons**
Contrast that with small words and short sentences put together in a unique way.
“To bring humanity back to air travel.” – JetBlue
Show the Big Picture.
A vision statement is an oxymoron. We want people to see where we’re going, and know why. They need to see the big picture. Words don’t cut it for this. It’s called the picture superiority effect- we engage and remember more with pictures and visuals than we do with words. So why do we cut something as important as our vision to mere words? We need people to “get it.” That’s where a picture is worth a thousand words. After all, it’s difficult to see the big picture without a big picture. This example – what we call a GrowthMap – was used to communicate the strategy and vision for a global marketing agency.
Of course, communication and messaging around your strategy or vision is only part of the picture. The strategy itself, management effectiveness and the leadership of the company all play a role, but this one is critical and not that difficult to fix.
*Not really, but something equally prosaic.
**Interesting side-note. This mission statement had more “complex expression” and “passive voice” suggestions from my writing proofreader than the rest of the blog post.
Gavin is a founding partner at fassforward consulting group. He blogs about PowerPoint, Presenting, Communication and Message Discipline at makeapowerfulpoint.com. You can follow him on twitter @powerfulpoint.