High-Trust Culture #5: Create a Winning Vision

February 11, 2014 /LinkedIn/ – Whether it’s hockey players, curlers, or 4-man bobsledders, no Olympic team members could ever have made it to Sochi without trusting their teammates, coaches, and leaders.

At the world-class level, where a hair’s breadth can separate Gold from going home empty-handed, Olympic team members rely on trust. Trust is the invisible language of team success; and, for Olympians, each element of trust noted so far in this series is important – from integrity and respect to empowerment and accountability.

But there’s another lesson about trust that business leaders might learn from Olympians: no team gets to the top without a compelling vision to inspire it. For athletes, that means being able to imagine finally stepping onto the podium to receive a medal. More than just a dream of glory, this is an achievable vision that helps teams push through inevitable exhaustion and setbacks. Tackling challenges on the road to a common goal is a natural way for team members to come to trust one another.

Your organization’s vision may not yet be reducible to a dramatic TV image of Olympic victory – but it should be just as powerful. Trust is far more likely to develop when there’s a common dream that brings people together in pursuit of meaningful results. More than a goal that everyone can get behind, a great vision is a picture of success that people can share, shape and contribute to. Most people want to feel like they’re working toward something real and important, not just working their way through tasks.

Keep the following ideas in mind as you create a vision to unite your team and to energize them to aim for the Gold:

1. A mission is more than a mission statement: We’ve all seen mission statements that are long and flowery, full of buzzwords and the language of lofty virtue. Businesses like to claim they’re changing the world, thanks to forward-thinking products and unimpeachable integrity. What they often don’t realize is that attempts at being aspirational and inspirational come off as interchangeable and irrelevant. Instead of something that sounds nice, create an image of your organization’s purpose, one that everyone on the team can own, contribute to, and participate in.

2. Collect and celebrate “hero stories”: Part of capturing a compelling vision is picking real stories from the organization, and celebrating them. People tend to think inductively – that is, from the specific to the general. “Hero stories” can provide a great example of your organization’s vision in action. I recall giving talks to our offices every year at Trammell Crow and telling the tales of people who’d exemplified our values. One year I changed up my stump speech, and left out one of the more colorful stories that everyone had heard, in which a partner had gone the extra mile for a client. In more than one city, people came up to me afterward to say, “You forgot to tell the story about surprising our client!” Clearly, everyone had heard it already, they just wanted to know that it still mattered, that it was still a central part of the company folklore. At jetBlue, we collect the stories of crewmembers who go the extra mile for customers. I’ve even opened board meetings reading letters to remind us of our mission.

3. Make your vision inclusive: All organizations have a number of significant constituencies — employees, customers, investors, and/or communities served. Articulating a purpose that brings all of these together is a good starting point. The goal is to find a vision that all stakeholders can root for. Consider the vision of the winning Olympic team: it’s a goal that everyone can get behind, from the athletes and their families to the coaches, the fans and even sponsors.

4. Beware the vision vacuum: As organizations grow, sprouting new departments with differing objectives and priorities, the big picture tends to blur, and early passions fade. Don’t let them. People don’t want to come to work if they don’t know what they’re working towards, or if they can sense that their leaders don’t either. If you can no longer express your organization’s vision in a simple, compelling way, you’ve gotten off track. That means it’s time to refocus – not just the vision, but the organization itself. The goal should be that every member of the team has a direct “line of sight” from their job to the podium

Remember, a mission statement is not a guarantee of mission. Many trust-poor organizations have mission statements that exclude significant stakeholders or are merely promotional. Crafting a coherent, ambitious and realistic mission brings many stakeholders together, allowing each to contribute color, texture and meaning. That process can help stamp out politics and mistrust, and help build a podium on which everyone in the organization can stand.

By Joel Peterson

Up Next: Communication helps trust thrive

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Photos: U.S. Army, Korea / Flickr