When technology, policies and culture are woven together in the workplace, they create the fabric that is the organization we experience. How we shape and weave these three important threads as the organization transforms is what separates success from mediocrity or failure. And sharing a common vision is a critical component to weaving these threads together in a way that leads to success.
In this article, I’m going to walk through a quick example of sharing a common vision at a corporate level, discuss aspects of developing and defining a common vision concept, and finally share some techniques that help in the critical stage of maintaining team members’ inspiration for that shared vision.
A Common Vision With a Visible Impact
In 1997, three Japanese software engineers quit their jobs and founded a software startup called Cybozu (Japanese for “cyber kid”). Their goal: improve teamwork through technology. Within three years, Cybozu became one of the top software producers in Japan and went public on the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 2000 — setting a new speed record for a company to progress from its inception to IPO.
However, while the company had been founded with an expressed purpose, "to create a society brimming with teamwork,” and was growing in leaps and bounds, teams didn’t seem to be working well within Cybozu. This manifested itself as a high employee turnover rate — almost 30% by 2005. Underneath the financial success lurked a problem: there was no shared vision for the company.
Cybozu is my company’s parent company. The leadership team realized that its mantra to “create a society brimming with teamwork” had been stated as a purpose with the hope to develop culture around it, but it had not been made part of the fabric of the organization through reinforcing policies, actions and technology. In other words, they had created a purpose, but they had not developed a shared common vision.
To address this shortcoming, we as a company took a hard look at our purpose, culture, policies and technology, and began a major corporate transformation. We recognized that to build a society brimming with teamwork, we first needed to build a company brimming with teamwork. Individuals are the key components of teams, so we focused on respecting our team members’ individuality and engaging all stakeholders. We created “100 People, 100 Workstyles” and other supportive policies that fostered a more flexible environment for better creativity and collaboration.
As a result of these policy and technology shifts, we were able to align our culture with our purpose and effectively execute on sharing a common vision by converging our purpose and elements of teamwork culture. Through these efforts, Cybozu’s turnover rate decreased from almost 30% to under 5% by 2011, where it has remained ever since. The icing on the cake was that significant business success followed — Cybozu tripled revenue and hit one million users worldwide by 2018.
If you’re about to embark on a significant transformation in your organization, it’s critically important that you not only articulate an overall vision but ensure that everyone engaged is actually sharing the common purpose and culture that constitute that vision.
Organizations work best and are most satisfied when the team is working together, very tightly, with the same understanding of what exactly they’re trying to accomplish. Relating that back to change, if everyone shares the same vision of where they’re heading and why and how, then it’s much more likely they will adapt well to the changes and challenges they're inevitably going to face.
Related Article: Defining a Vision for the Digital Workplace
Developing the Common Vision(s): Decentralized Expression
We most often think of ‘vision’ in business in terms of a single, compelling company vision. It certainly is important to have that overarching company vision well expressed and shared. But — and this is really important — it is equally critical to have unique visions for individual departments, projects, activities and teams around which anyone involved or touched by it can come together with a stated purpose and value. This explicit expression is key to the vision becoming commonly shared.
Our company uses a very consistent and straightforward method to develop these visions or concepts. These concept creations have been crucial in keeping folks focused not only on the ‘what?’ and the ‘how?’ — but also — crucially, the ‘why?’
Another common perception, and certainly with some truth to it, is that compelling visions are developed by a single person: the visionary. We hear and read so much about the “visionary leader” or the “visionary entrepreneur” that it’s a logical presumption. And yes, these individuals play an important role in stimulating and motivating business creation and business development. But often, if no ongoing vision development process is deployed and no more diversity is brought into the visioning process, then organizations may race forward with few guardrails, potentially ending up at a troubling location. Travis Kalanick of Uber and Adam Neumann of WeWork provide strong cautionary tales of the single-visionary scenario.
We’ve found, in contrast, that implementing a decentralized method to develop visions for an organization’s activities and groups not only helps bring more voices to the process but, in so doing, creates a more empowered and engaged team with better alignment — ultimately bringing more decentralized and diversified decision-making. Organizations, however, rarely have an explicitly stated and commonly shared vision for a digital transformation initiative, which unfortunately is a sure first step toward failure.
So how can an organization execute on defining and maintaining the framework for an effective common vision? Read on.
Related Article: Communicating Your Vision of Digital Transformation
Defining the Common Vision: The Concept
As I explained above, our company’s high-level common vision is to “build a society brimming with teamwork,” which starts from within, with the development of our own teamwork culture.
But as we set out to create a common vision for our different departments and our various projects and activities, we always start with our concept framework to create the foundations of, and explicitly state, the vision. We do this by defining the “target” and the “value,” which is expressed in terms of what you want the target to say or feel as a result of the effort.
This visualization is as critical as it is simple. Here’s an example of the concept for an activity at Kintone as commonplace as a regular weekly meeting:
With this concept we clearly define the vision for this “TTT” all-hands weekly meeting, keep it accessible to everyone in our shared team portal for easy reference, and share it with all new team members so they can understand both what it is, and what the vision for it is.
I’ve learned through experience that people can easily forget, lose sight of, or develop individual, alternate ideas about the purpose of certain activities over time, especially long-standing regular activities. That’s why it’s critical to have an explicit statement of the vision for folks to be able to reference and to maintain a clarity and consistency of purpose for it.
As alluded to earlier, it is best to have as many stakeholders as feasible be a part of the initial concept development effort itself. If not part of the actual brainstorming, then at least part of a sharing and feedback session. This allows team members to engage with the initiative from the outset and be a real part of the development of the strategic vision for the project and so, in turn, have a stake in the outcome.
One can imagine a concept for a digital transformation project being composed of a target that is ‘all internal team members,’ and perhaps ‘all customers’ as well. Maybe the value for both is the same, such as “I can find my information faster and do my work more efficiently.” However, it’s also fine if they are different. For example, for employees it might be, “I can find my information faster and do my work more efficiently,” while for customers the value might be “Company X’s services are better now, and they are more responsive to my needs.”
It is perfectly acceptable for a common vision for one effort to encompass two (or more) targets, each having their own unique values. The key is that they are explicitly stated and shared widely.
Related Article: Failure to Launch: 5 Causes of Digital Transformation Failure
Maintaining the Common Vision: Repetition, Distribution and Evolution
After the vision is expressed in an explicit format such as in the concept framework, communicating the vision broadly, transparently and repetitively becomes critical for the vision to take hold as a ‘common vision’ that is shared, accepted, and executed on by all team members as execution unfolds.
This is especially true for any digital transformation project, whose outcome is largely defined by how well everyone is engaged and on the same page. While a concept can help get them on the same page at the outset, keeping them on the same page is the more persistent challenge.
Repetition breeds familiarity, and familiarity breeds acceptance. One great way to deliver passive repetition (as well as most productive project management), is to manage the data, collaboration and workflow of a digital transformation project on a single, transparent, central platform — and keep the common vision concept on the main page of that central project management platform. This ensures team members are always exposed to it, either when actively participating in the project, or just checking on its status.
To distribute with more active repetition, set up periodic check-in sessions throughout the project life with leaders and any groups involved to discuss how the actual execution on the ground is matching the original targets and values of the vision and concept.
As the project progresses and evolves, arrange prompt discussions around whether each group feels the vision is still ideal, or if they now have thoughts on a variation of the vision, or even a secondary vision that further aligns with their particular department at that particular time.
These important discussions keep the vision relevant, shared and fresh as stages and realities of the project change. Consider it “Common Vision Kaizen,” which means continuous improvement. And, as a benefit, any updates or revisions of the concept provide another excellent opportunity to share the common vision more broadly again.
Related Article: Using 5S Methodology to Improve Your Digital Workplace
The impact of effectively sharing a common vision is to inspire an organization to work at its best and feel most satisfied. There are three keys critical to the success of sharing the common vision:
- Pursuing a decentralized method of developing the vision.
- Explicitly defining the concept of the common vision in terms of targets and values.
- Providing easy and repetitive exposure to the vision and keeping it fresh.
A reminder: this ‘Sharing a Common Vision’ piece is the first deep dive of five best practices that were briefly detailed in my introductory article ‘5 Best Practices to Shepherd Your Organization Through Digital Transformation.’
My next article will explore how to implement the second of my five best practices for digital transformation success: transparency.