Insight: HBR on Propelling your Professional Development

Is your business missing out from leaving the creation of vision to top-level leaders alone?

Avollon is working with some of the most visionary companies in their respective markets – all led by talents and leaders promoting strong visions and values on all levels. We know that a simple, bold, inspirational vision is something close to magic, capable of moving mountains and people.

It’s a common goal that brings people throughout the company together. A focal point for developing strategies to achieve a better future. Unfortunately, the common structure upholds top-level leaders to set aspirational direction, while managers ensure the day-to-day operations follow accordingly. Are you and your company missing an opportunity?

As a manager, and aspiring top-level leader, you have a number of opportunities to get hands-on experience in shaping vision. In the research for the HBR Leader’s Handbook, Harvard Business Review identified three critical vision-creation opportunities that can propel your professional development:

Helping the CEO Shape the Company’s Vision

Crafting a vision requires an attempt at foreseeing the future, but seasoned senior leaders know they are missing critical information in this attempt. They are too far removed from customer experiences and operational realities. Tapping the insights and experiences of those who will be touched by the vision can help senior executives achieve that sense of connection. Many institutionalize the gathering of these kinds of ideas; like IBM and Sam Palmisano’s idea jam for example. Raising your hand to volunteer your own perspective in collective problem-solving will not only develop your vision-creating skills but enable you to learn from others who are working through the same problems as you are.

Translating the Company Vision to Your Unit

Even if you don’t get to help in the early stages of your company’s vision, if you are a leader at any level of the organization you and your team will most likely be asked to translate that vision for your particular unit or function. Although at a smaller scale, this in itself is vision-crafting and smaller-scale vision-crafting will benefit from the same kind of perspective that more senior leaders themselves will want to seek. If you are simply “translating” vision from the upper part of the organization, take some time to lobby ideas from other parts of the company that also have a stake in your unit’s performance aspirations. And last but not least; be sure to cross-check your “translation” with those senior leaders who are guiding the overall vision for the enterprise.

Catalyzing Your Own Vision

Sometimes a new vision doesn’t begin with a CEO. It bubbles up from the visions that lower-level leaders use to drive innovation and change in their own units. For example, when broadcaster PBS launched a successful new channel for children (PBS Kids 24/7), the initial vision came from Lesli Rotenberg, SVP of Children’s Media for the network. Rotenberg convinced CEO Paula Kerger that such a channel was consistent with the overall educational vision of the network.

Your organization may not be sympathetic to bottom-up vision development. However, good senior leaders strive to meet the relentless need for continual innovation in today’s operating climate. They know they need employees at all levels who will promote new ideas with the potential for growth and continual reinvention to survive in the long run.

Get Your Vision Heard

How can you position yourself for these vision-building moments? Every situation will be different, but here are a few tips to improve your chances to get involved:

Get clear on what a vision is, and why it matters. Don’t confuse “vision”, with “mission”, “values” or strategy. Organizations renew their visions more frequently than their mission, as a way to motivate themselves to new levels of performance.

Watch for opportunities to contribute. Contribute to the vision-work underway by other leaders. Translate an already-agreed enterprise vision down to the unit you are leading–or focus the work of your team on a local or regional vision.

Don’t do all the deciding alone. Just as a senior leader might benefit from having you involved and contributing to a major corporate vision, share the process with others working with you in any of your own vision-building.

Learn by watching or studying other vision-building. Talk to other leaders about visions they have developed and understand how and why those visions came out the way they did.

Read the full article from HBR here.