Author of the New York Times Bestseller, Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World. If you’re like most of my readers, you’re already a high-achieving leader. You’re committed to making big contributions at work—and seeing big results.
My life is full of celebration. There are happy dances for finished dishes, celebratory puppy cuddles for when our rescue dog makes it around the block without barking, and obligatory family clapping when my son eats anything other than bananas. He really loves bananas.
That’s my home life: dances, cuddles, and clapping. There are also theme songs.
I’m not the only one celebrating. Celebration is one of our most natural impulses. First steps, rolls, words, and bowel movements are celebrated. Good grades are celebrated. Mardi Gras, St. Patrick’s Day, and Fridays are celebrated.
A salesman takes his wife out for dinner after a sale. A couple sips sparkly champagne together in celebration of their anniversary. Graduation ceremonies end in a multi-generational gathering of congratulations and gifts. We celebrate with our loved ones on a regular basis.
But that’s not always true of the office.
Celebrate good times? Come on!
Unfortunately, most of the companies I’ve worked for over the years have been missing out. Birthdays were sometimes celebrated. Organizational successes were shared without celebration, at least not celebrations that were inclusive of everyone. Anniversaries, work or otherwise, were unknown. Individuals shared only their most profound, work-related success stories. Progress was rarely celebrated.
Though some companies have embraced celebration, the traditional brick-and-mortar, nine-to-five, personal-separate-from-professional view of a workplace environment is far from dead.
Let’s kill it already. Not only should we be celebrating at work, but we should be celebrating the little things. Cake for new clients. Pizza for progress. It doesn’t need to be big or expensive. Any get-together in celebration of a job well done, however large or small, is a good idea.
Happy, connected people make business better, and celebration is a great way to keep employees both happy and connected. Whether you are celebrating an employee’s birthday, a merger, or a step taken along the path to completing an important project, celebration benefits both your employees and your business.
Here are five reasons to make celebration a permanent tradition in your workplace.
1. Celebration reduces stress
Celebration is a formal invitation to take a break from the daily grind of chasing victory. It is an invitation to, instead, appreciate a job well done. Employees are encouraged to focus on what has gone right. Accomplishments are highlighted, leaving to-do lists for later.
Alongside this surge in positive thinking, comes an immediate reduction in stress. Furrowed brows hard at work crunching numbers become light smiles. Hunched-over shoulders relax. Bodies that had been sat at desks for hours stand, stretch, and move in social circles.
The deeper benefits of stress reduction are well documented and include improved cognitive performance, better physical health, and reduced workplace burnout. It also makes for a more pleasant work environment in general.
2. Celebration releases happiness
And by happiness, I mean endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and all the lesser-known chemicals of joy.
Endorphins are the chemical searing through your body when you finish a run. That giddy feeling of being on top of the world? That is endorphins in action. Dopamine is your own personal motivation machine. It is the secret to getting pumped and hitting goals. Serotonin regulates mood. Depression is linked to deficits in serotonin, and healthy levels keep you happy. Endorphins can be triggered by laughter, dopamine by reward, and serotonin by community.
Celebration is a medley of all three triggers. And all three neurotransmitters are likely to make an appearance. The combination helps to build happiness, and also contributes to social bonding.
3. Celebration strengthens teams
Social bonds are the bedrock of teamwork. When you get your team together in a positive environment, you build and solidify these bonds.
Many companies hire team-building experts or organize expensive retreats to keep office bonds strong. While these are excellent strategies to begin the process, one-off experiences are not effective in the long run. Regular celebration can be the glue that keeps people chatting over coffee, laughing over inside jokes, and going the extra mile to help out a coworker.
4. Celebration builds loyalty
Celebration sends a strong, positive message. Celebrating the personal achievements of employees, whether they be birthdays, work anniversaries, or project related, is tangible evidence that a company values its employees and sees them as people worthy of celebration.
Including the whole team in company-driven celebrations, whether you’ve hit a profit goal or signed a big contract, signals that the company’s successes are shared. It is public acknowledgment of the joint efforts extended. When people are treated as friends and family, when people are credited for their work, they become an integrated, loyal part of your company.
5. Celebration improves productivity
The end result of an organizational culture of celebration is increased productivity. Happy, healthy people with strong social bonds work together well. People who share in the joy of success are more motivated to achieve that success. Celebrating small wins inspires people to conquer all the obstacles between themselves and the big wins.
So break out the party hats and create a culture of celebration in the workplace. You’ll be glad you did, and so will everyone else.
Why High Achievers Struggle to Celebrate and What to Do About It
Good leaders practice the fine art of celebration. Recognizing both team achievement and individual contribution is rocket fuel for morale. Yet for many high achievers, the need to celebrate is a blind spot. Often, they cannot see their own accomplishments or are reluctant to commemorate them. I know this because that was my experience until about ten years ago.
I had reached a low point in my career (so I thought). I was languishing in a midlevel job (in my estimation), and desperate to make a mark on the world. I voiced that desire to my wife for the hundredth time, ending with, “I just want to succeed at something.”
“You’ve got to be kidding,” Heather said. “You were a much-loved pastor, now editorial director at a thriving publishing house. You’ve written three books, your children are flourishing, and your wife is madly in love with you. You’re one of the most successful people I know. Why can’t you see that?”
Spousal hyperbole aside, she had a point. Given the many good things in my life, why was I focused only on the few that eluded my grasp? Because I, like many who are driven by the urge to achieve, simply couldn’t see the wins. In my mind, the goal not attained was the only one that mattered.
For many leaders, that nose-to-the-grindstone mentality is a weakness that affects both well-being and future performance. Research confirms that leaders who pause to affirm what’s going well are likely to be healthier and more successful than those who don’t.
We’re not worthy
Driven leaders avoid celebration for three reasons, each having roots in achiever’s psyche. One is that they may feel unworthy of recognition because their achievements seem small or incomplete. Overachievers base their sense of well-being on their competence, according to University of Rochester psychologist Andrew Elliot. As a result, they’re always trying to prove themselves, and always coming up short.
Overachievers live in the gap between the present and the perfect. That disparity is all they can see. What others perceive as a stunning victory may appear to the achiever as a near miss. Why celebrate when you’re only the second-highest earner in the company?
A second reason for avoiding celebration is fear of failure, which produces an unrelenting focus on the future. According to psychologist Robert Arkin, overachievers are fearful that any failure will call their competence into question. “Rather than setting and striving for goals based on a pure desire to achieve, their underlying motivation impels them out into the world to avoid failure.” As a result, high achievers seldom appreciate the present moment. If they aren’t moving forward, they feel as though they’re falling behind.
Third, high achievers have incredibly high expectations for others as well as themselves. They may be stingy with praise because they don’t want to communicate that “we’ve arrived” or “you can relax now.” They hold their own feet to the fire—and everyone else’s as well.
The downside of drivenness
Overachievement is generally lauded in our society, so little attention has been given to its negative aspects. However, Arkin draws a parallel between overachievers and underachievers, noting that they share a sense of self-doubt and that “each has an abnormal investment in the question of self-worth.”
Because they measure that self-worth by extrinsic measures such as achievement and earnings, high achievers are playing a losing game. There is always one more deal to be closed, one more bonus to be earned, one more deadline to be met. Despite their many accomplishments, they experience more stress than satisfaction. The ironic result of their heroic effort is lower self-esteem and a nagging feeling of incompetence.
Fortunately, there’s an antidote to this toxic brew of high expectations and constant anxiety: celebration.
Slow down to speed up
The simple “ability to notice, appreciate, and savor the elements of one’s life” is a crucial determinant of well-being according to Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough. Their study concluded that those who practice gratitude by focusing on their “blessings” rather than their “burdens” enjoy increased wellness and greater psychological, social, and spiritual resources.
When we substitute “achievements” and “failures” for “blessings” and “burdens,” it appears that those who take time to appreciate what they have already produced will have a greater sense of self-worth than those who do not. Celebration is the ideal treatment for the unrelenting stress of perfectionism.
Celebration is the ideal treatment for the unrelenting stress of perfectionism.
—LAWRENCE W. WILSON
Further, Emmons and McCullough found that gratitude increases the likelihood that people will function optimally and feel good in the future. Pausing to acknowledge what’s going well doesn’t impede their future success, but makes it more likely.
John Seiffer of CEO Boot Camp agrees. “Part of leadership is getting people excited about where the company is going and celebrating milestones of progress is a big part of this,” says Seiffer. “This helps employee morale because people like to be on a winning team. And even when things aren’t going well, if past accomplishments have been celebrated, it makes adversity easier to deal with.”
The very highest achievers have long known the value of celebration. According to performance coach John Eliot, “Superstars know when to stop working at their job and start playing at it.” Those who cannot do so often become what Eliot calls “over-motivated underachievers.” Though they work harder and harder, they see fewer and fewer results.
The most productive thing leaders can do for their team—and themselves—may not be gearing up for another sprint but slowing down to acknowledge the last one. By celebrating the wins, even the small ones, we improve our well-being, deepen our emotional reserves, and position ourselves for even greater success.
By celebrating the wins we improve our well-being and position ourselves for even greater success.
Naturally, the ways companies celebrate is as varied as the companies themselves, and the industries they occupy. So here’s a look at five you may want to borrow for your own team.
Paying it forward
Achieving a major company milestone is certainly a reason to throw a huge party, and celebrating twenty-five years in business definitely qualifies as “major.” Yet for Dream Events and Catering, a full-service catering and event company based in Nashville, Tennessee, spending a ton of cash on a fancy soiree didn’t seem appropriate. Instead, the community-driven firm decided to celebrate others.
Last summer Dream embarked on its Summer of 25 Dreams campaign, a pay-it-forward style effort that focused on “feeding, empowering, supporting, championing, creating, and committing acts of dreaminess all over Middle Tennessee.”
“One half of our goal was to give back to the community that has supported Dream through the years,” explains Dream owner Becki Annastas. “The other half of our goal was to engage our team in one of our most important core values—giving back and treating people the way you would want to be treated.” The end result was nearly two hundred hours volunteered to support over 2,500 people across fifteen Nashville-area causes.
“For our team, it’s about being part of something bigger than ourselves,” Annastas says. “Our projects give the staff opportunities to connect with each other and work together, while feeling really good about the work they are doing. Our team also knows the more successful our company is, the more we can give back to our neighbors and community, and that motivates them.”
When celebrating is your job
What’s the best way to ensure that celebrations are baked into company culture? Hire someone who specializes in fun.
“We’ve created a full-time position called Director of Happiness,” says Darren Schreher, hiring manager for Into the AM, a $20 million-per-year apparel brand and four-time member of Inc. 5000. “The primary responsibility of the position is team member engagement and morale. We’ve also made sure that clear goals are set for each team member which are measurable and broken down annually and quarterly. As a result, every team member knows what winning looks like.”
And when team members win, it’s a big deal. “We provide transparent and open recognition, which is given by fellow team members and then projected onto a ten-foot-high screen on the front wall of our office,” says Schreher. “Additionally, we give personalized birthday celebrations, free music festival tickets as rewards, and a team member of the month award worth $500.”
If it sounds like the company celebrates a lot, it’s because they do. And according to Schreher, it’s all by design. “We take our company culture and team member engagement very seriously around here, and we have lots of programs and efforts toward maintaining a high level of satisfaction,” he adds. “We are certain that these kinds of initiatives lead to decreased turnover and happier employees.”
Celebrating accomplishments can actually lead to more success.
As the CEO of MonetizeMore, an ad-tech company, Kean Graham manages full-time staffers that are literally based around the globe. And once the company surpassed the $10 million gross revenue mark in 2017, he didn’t hesitate to plan a company retreat that will take place in the Philippines this March. “The retreat will be a great opportunity for team members to meet face-to-face for the first time, gain rapport, bond as a team and, of course, celebrate together,” Graham says.
Is it costly to fly nearly 100 people to a tropical island in Southeast Asia? Sure. And is worth it? Absolutely, says Graham.
“While these are expensive, the return is immense,” he explains. “The chance to have non-day-to-day conversations is often the spark to great ideas, builds company loyalty and increases morale and motivation. After each retreat, each team member is fired up and the company is equipped with several new innovations which improve the direction of the company.”
Stop, drop, and party!
Customers—and the cash they represent—are the lifeline of any new company, and since launching their company in 2013, it’s something the Aisle Planner team has never forgotten. Now, each time the tech platform signs a hundred new companies to take advantage of Aisle Planner’s cloud-based business and project management tools for wedding and event planners, the whole team stops to celebrate. Immediately.
“We call for an immediate drop-what-you’re-doing happy hour of sorts and pop open a bottle of champagne to celebrate,” says Katherine Oyer, Aisle Planner’s Director of Public Relationships and Brand Partnerships. “One bottle spread throughout the entire team might only allot to a small nip, but the act of pausing to celebrate our continued success creates a warm “bubbly” feeling in us all. We have a superstition that if we don’t open the bottle ASAP, we will start to lose customers!”
The toasts are apparently working. Oyer notes that Aisle Planner has a very small churn rate, so they tend to view each new customer as a lifelong partner. And that’s all the more reason to make celebrating an urgent priority.
“Each time we hit a hundred new companies it’s a big deal because many of us remember the days that we would celebrate every ten new companies that subscribed,” says Oyer. “We find it important to celebrate immediately because that special moment doesn’t last. It’s still exciting to see the company be successful, but a few days later it seems to lose some of its shiny excitement.”
Adding a personal touch
It may take a village to raise a child—and it also takes one to grow a successful business. Lisa Chu, CEO of Black n Bianco, understands this fully and makes it a point to personally honor each employee for a job well done.
When the online seller of kids’ formal clothes recently secured a large purchase order from an overseas retailer—a deal that took over six months to finalize—Chu gave each team member a hand-written letter and performance bonus to show her appreciation for their hard work and dedication. “No contribution to this success goes unnoticed,” she explains. “My employees are the backbone of my business, and I always do whatever I can to ensure they are emotionally satisfied.”
Along the way, Chu has also discovered that this emotional satisfaction doesn’t just make her employees happy—it makes them more productive as well.
“By sharing this success with my employees and their families, it helps maintain a healthy and happy relationship with everyone in my company,” says Chu, who hosted a party with employees and their family members to celebrate the new order. “I go out of my way to recognize my employees because I care about them. When my employees feel their company truly cares about their wellbeing they are more productive, efficient, and motivated to succeed. It’s a two-way relationship where both parties benefit.”
Affordable Ideas for Stewarding Your Greatest Resource
Celebrating with your team is one of the best ways to show your appreciation for their effort and achievement, but that takes intentionality. With a bit of creativity, you can transform the culture of your team by celebrating achievements together.
Celebration and appreciation are two sides of the same coin. So, when you take time to observe what your team has accomplished you’re really affirming them—not just what they’ve done. Richard Foster says that “celebration comes when the common features of life are redeemed.” The simple act of noticing even the everyday contributions of others has a hugely positive effect on morale and culture.
The simple act of noticing even the everyday contributions of others has a hugely positive effect on morale and culture.
—MEGAN HYATT MILLER
Yet this doesn’t come naturally to all leaders. Major wins, such as achieving annual or quarterly goals, may be obvious. But noticing the more frequent—and more mundane—contributions of team members requires something extra. It means training yourself to notice what people are doing right, then developing the habit of pausing to celebrate.
Remember, you get more of what you affirm. So when you celebrate an outstanding contribution, unusual effort, or stellar collaboration, your team will go for an encore. Sadly, the reverse is also true. When a leader fails to notice a job well done, the omission kills morale.
The word celebration probably brings to mind a party or other major event. And parties are a great way to reward performance and are certainly one tool in the leader’s box. Yet they sometimes leave out the folk who are less extroverted or spontaneous.
If we think of celebration more broadly as recognizing and highlighting wins, many more possibilities come to mind. Here are a few that we have used at Michael Hyatt & Company.
Everyone likes to receive recognition for their efforts, and verbal affirmation is the easiest way to do that. When you notice someone doing something right, catch them in the act and tell them right away.
Shout-outs in email or Slack is also a fun way to encourage a team member. And nothing beats a sincere, handwritten note. It communicates both that you noticed and that you cared enough to respond.
The best place to offer affirmation is in front of others. The more publicly you brag about your team, the more impactful your words will be.
When a leader fails to notice a job well done, the omission kills morale.
—MEGAN HYATT MILLER
Intrinsic rewards such as meaning and a sense of purpose are the most powerful motivators for employees. Yet research shows that adding extrinsic rewards greatly improves job satisfaction across all social groups. Offering small, spontaneous gifts communicates that team members are valued for their ongoing efforts as well as their overall achievement.
These rewards don’t have to be costly. You might cater in lunch as a way of saying thanks after a big push. Gift cards for Starbucks or a favorite restaurant are always appreciated.
To bump up the level of reward, consider gifting a spa day, date night, or overnight getaway for a team member and spouse. A good rule of thumb is to match the reward to the effort, and be consistent in offering perks. That ensures that they will be both an affirmation and an incentive for future achievement.
Awards are a more formal type of of verbal affirmation, and more public. Use gatherings such as quarterly or annual meetings to acknowledge both team and individual performance. Trophies, certificates, and plaques are not mere tchotchkes. They scream, “Great job! We’re proud of you!” and often become treasured mementos.
Go ahead and be over the top in your celebration. Be festive! Add decorations and make it a special occasion. If you’re not naturally inclined toward this sort of thing, enlist the help of others. Don’t be afraid to break out the champagne and make a toast. The more you do to call attention to the achievement, the more impactful your celebration will be.
Not all celebrations must be workplace based. In fact, you gain a significant boost in morale by changing the venue. Moving off-site changes the social dynamics of an event and brings the added benefit of team building.
Again, these celebrations can be affordable. A simple dinner out, field trip, escape room, or mini-golf outing can be a fun way to say, “You matter!” Our team loves to go bowling. Find out what would be enjoyable for your group, and put it on the calendar.
If you are able, consider a larger event such as a Broadway show or a beach getaway, spouses included. For several years, we’ve rewarded our team for outstanding performance with a Caribbean cruise or other major excursion. The impact on morale and productivity is powerful.
Remember, to have value the event must be contextualized. Whether large or small, be sure to attach an important message to the fun. Tie the reward back to the accomplishment.
Intentionality is key
You don’t have to be a fun-loving extrovert to create meaningful celebrations for your team. Intentionality is the key. Notice when others make a significant effort, and affirm them for it. Set goals together, and pay attention to progress. When you reach a milestone, don’t let it to slip by unnoticed.
All of this requires forethought. Be proactive in planning to celebrate. Put an appointment on the calendar to write thank-you notes. Preselect the reward you will give when setting any goal. Budget for celebratory outings and get them scheduled.
Above all, don’t allow a lack of resources to prevent you from stewarding your most precious resource: the energy, passion, and morale of your team members. You can do this affordably. In fact, you can’t afford not to!
Celebration may cost a bit of time and money, but it is well worth it. If you invest the effort in celebrating with your team, that effort will be more than repaid in improved morale and increased productivity. In this episode, we’re going to explore the who, what, when, where, why, and how of celebrating—especially with your team.
He stood awkwardly in the front of the room. I remember him shifting on the balls of his feet as he read a script from behind the podium. We were called into the auditorium to hear the vision of the company. Rumors of impending layoffs circulated, increasing the tension in the room.
Many years later, I don’t recall the specifics of what he said, but I remember little things: the temperature in the room nearing sauna levels, the executive’s monotone voice and lack of emotion, the woman to my left who asked the first question (and received the first non-answer) and the way the speaker ended his talk with a cough into the microphone and caused piercing feedback in the speakers. We filed out quietly, somewhat glad that we hadn’t been collectively let go. We were all quietly pondering the meeting as if we could give it meaning after the fact.
Years later, I would take the first of several CEO roles. The very first time I was delivering a strategic vision, I thought about the first one I attended and the mistakes made. I’ve tried to avoid the most common pitfalls, but I still made my own share of errors along the way.
Here are nine mistakes to avoid when communicating your vision:
Mistake 1: Ignoring the room. That negative experience always has me thinking of the room logistics: sound, temperature, technology, and visuals. It’s not only the physicality of the room but also preparing the room in other ways. Make sure your audience knows what to expect. Your message starts with the invitation, not with your first words. Today, the “room” is just as likely to be digital as physical. The same preparation required for a room is needed when you are going live on Facebook or YouTube. Leaders sweat the small stuff to ensure success.
Leaders sweat the small stuff to ensure success.
Mistake 2: Saying it once. It was my human resources leader who stopped me from making this mistake. “I’ve said that already,” I told him, thinking that was that. If you want to communicate strategy and vision, you need to say it multiple times. Don’t worry that you may repeat yourself. Your message must be repeated multiple times and in multiple ways. Leaders stick with the same message to drive it home.
Mistake 3: Sticking to the script. There are times when you want to stick to a script, but more often, you need to be flexible. Especially in this case, it was clear to all of us in the room that the speaker was not comfortable with the script. He didn’t believe what he was saying. Believe in your message or don’t deliver it. I always think of the passion of Martin Luther King Jr. and the way he changed a nation based on his passion. His most famous speech, “I Have a Dream,” was part script and part spontaneous as he responded to someone in the crowd who shouted, “Tell them about the dream, Martin!” Great leaders know when to lose the script.
Mistake 4: Making assumptions. Another communication mistake is filling in pauses. When you think you know what the person will say, or think, or expect, you might be right. You might also be wrong, and your miss could prove costly. I often have to stop myself from jumping in at the first pause, thinking it’s my job to fill in the conversational gap. Instead, learn to ask questions. Seek clarification. Provide context. Never assume you know. Leaders seek to listen and understand.
Mistake 5: Seeking perfection. I’m a driven, type-A person who strives to be my best, but I’ve learned that there’s far more power in being real. When you show up authentically, you build a bridge with others. Admit it when you don’t know. Leaders build trust through controlled vulnerability.
When you show up authentically, you build a bridge with others.
Mistake 6: Thinking about yourself first. In my book, The Book of Mistakes: 9 Secrets to Creating a Successful Future, I use a story to share some of the greatest mistakes that can keep you from living out your potential. The first one, “becoming part of someone else’s dream,” applies to communicators because it’s far too easy to communicate what matters to you instead of communicating what matters to them. When communicating a vision, what is in it for them? Why should investors get excited? Why should employees want to give their all? It’s not about you. Zig Ziglar once said, “You can get everything in life you want if you just help enough other people get what they want.” Leaders must communicate vision in terms of others.
Mistake 7: Relying on email. Today, with operations flung across the globe and customers appearing anywhere, it’s easy to think you can communicate in email or a newsletter. And you can, but you can’t leave it there. We have so many ways to communicate from tweets to Slack, email, video, in-person town halls, and more. Think of each one as a tool. What is your best vehicle to communicate initially? What is the best follow-up method? How do you reinforce it next week and next month? Leaders use multiple methods to communicate vision.
Mistake 8: Blending in. This is another mistake lifted from my book. The first executive vision communication I remembered was blah. He was blending in. The very best visions are sweeping, full of passion. Think about Steve Jobs sharing the vision of Apple and unveiling a new product. It was an event! No, we can’t all duplicate Steve Jobs, and we don’t want to either. And yet, standing out is important. Up your game, use better visuals, become an amazing storyteller. Leaders are memorable by standing out.
Admit it when you don’t know. Leaders build trust through controlled vulnerability.
Mistake 9: Using lingo. Far too many of us become so steeped in internal language, verbal shortcuts developed inside a team or organization. When used correctly, abbreviations speed up communication. The mistake happens when we use the acronyms and abbreviations outside of the group. This confuses the audience and creates distance that can torpedo the message. Don’t use a buzzword or technical term if it isn’t widely understood. Leaders use the appropriate language for the audience.
A few decades ago, I was ushered into a room to hear a dull speech. Though I don’t recall the specific message, its failures unexpectedly helped me grow as a leader. What not to do is as important as what to do. The premise of my book is that we learn best from others’ failures versus their successes.
Aspiring communicators have every opportunity today to shine. The tools, the technologies, and the techniques have never been as advanced and ready to highlight your vision of the future. Avoid a few pitfalls and you will find yourself more persuasive, more impactful, and more effective than you could have ever imagined.
There’s just no substitute for vision. When we have a compelling, unifying view of the future—and we’re able to communicate that view—it can motivate people to accomplish astonishing things. And those who lack vision, well, they’re just “unready” for the challenge of leadership. In this episode, we’re going to explore the importance of vision to energize and motivate our teams.
4 Elements of a Crystal-Clear Vision that Compels Action
To lead others, you need a compelling vision. But lofty words are not enough. A vision statement must draw a crystal-clear picture of the future that guides action.
In 2000, I took over Nelson Books, a major division of Thomas Nelson. I quickly discovered that it was the least profitable of the fourteen units in the company. We desperately needed a turnaround. Yet I knew that starting with tactical discussions about budgets and schedules would only keep us mired in place. People first needed to see what was possible.
In the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” Vision begins with the heart.
But it cannot end there. To be actionable, a vision must also be concrete. People must have a clear picture of the destination before they can move toward it. The secret is to provide enough detail to make the vision appear before their eyes, but not so specific that it becomes a tactical plan.
Vision begins with the heart, but it cannot end there. To be actionable, a vision must also be concrete
To create that kind of vision, I took a weeklong retreat and returned to Nelson Books with a statement that was ambitious, inspiring, and well beyond the Comfort Zone of the entire team. It also contained 10 specific descriptions of what success would look like. People were excited and ready to move forward.
And we did! Over the next six years, ours was consistently the fastest-growing, most profitable division at Thomas Nelson. That’s the power of a concrete vision.
I’m not talking here about slogans. For senior leaders, an effective statement of vision should be in narrative form and may run three or four pages in length. A condensed version is helpful for employees, volunteers, and other stakeholders.
Concrete vision rests on four key propositions. Here are the brush strokes that will paint a clear picture for any team, along with brief examples of how we’ve applied them at Michael Hyatt & Company.
1. A statement of culture
A statement of culture answers the question “Who are we?” This helps team members see themselves, one another, and the organization’s values in living color.
At Michael Hyatt & Company, we are a leadership development company. Our work environment is aligned with our core values, which guide us in recruiting people who are highly talented, self-confident, and possess impeccable character. Our team members are positive, highly motivated, and eager to serve others.
Our team members understand our core ideology, work collaboratively, and understand how their unique abilities contribute to our success. The description of identity casts a vision for what you are trying to build and who will have a part in doing it.
2. A description of product
Next, team members must have a clear idea of what products the organization creates or what services it offers. This answers the question “What do we do?” For example, we are a leadership development company, so all of our products and services help leaders develop clarity, confidence, and tools.
Here are a couple other examples:
We are a relief and development organization. We provide effective education, funding, and training.
We are a software company. We create innovative digital solutions.
We are a construction company. We build exceptional custom homes.
Again, the full statement will be longer and contain more specific detail, but this gives a snapshot of the idea.
3. A concept of the market
Third, a concrete vision statement will answer the question “What is our market?” Of all the potential clients or customers in the world, which ones are we trying to reach? What characterizes these constituents, and how will we deliver products to them?
Michael Hyatt & Company is a leadership development company that provides clarity, confidence, and tools to overwhelmed high achievers. That’s a precise description of the people we serve. These leaders are already accomplishing a great deal but feel overwhelmed by the demands and opportunities of professional, personal, and family life.
4. A desired impact
Finally, a concrete vision will describe the intended impact or outcome of the team’s effort. This answers the question “So what?” If we are successful in our work, what will be the result?
Our team helps overwhelmed high achievers get the clarity, confidence, and tools they need to win at work, succeed at life, and lead with confidence. Because of our efforts, leaders will be more productive, healthier, and have greater influence.
Make your vision concrete, specific, and inviting, and others will join you in making it a reality.
Vision, by definition, is an unseen future reality. A great leader makes that vision come alive for others so they are not only inspired but also directed to act. Make your vision concrete, specific, and inviting, and others will join you in making it a reality.
What It Takes for Vision to Transform the Day-to-Day
Company culture can make or break a business and those who are a part of it. According to a study by Deloitte, half of workers agree that culture has the strongest effect on their experience and engagement, beating out the environment and even the tools and technology they use on the job.
For a company to succeed together, everyone must be passionate and dedicated to the same purpose. Vision affects productivity because it is a motivating factor that can drive action. As Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, once said, “No company, small or large, can win over the long run without energized employees who believe in the mission and understand how to achieve it.”
But what if you’re not there yet? Initiating a change in the way things have always been done in a company is by no means an easy task, no matter what position of leadership you may be in.
Draw up a battle plan
To enact a successful, positive shift in your business’s culture, you as a leader must communicate a vision of the way your business should look and what behaviors must be introduced to begin this change. Begin by identifying the practices or habits that are not contributing to a healthy or positive culture that need to be eliminated or altered.
If you are working as a team to push for culture change, brainstorm together and list out solutions or alternative actions that will guide everyone back towards the intended purpose. Make a list of what goals are key for the company to change, such as a push for more leadership development, improved work-life balance for employees, or an overall happier work environment.
Remember, these are goals, not projects. They are not chores to be done or another task to add to the to-do list. They are a challenge, yes, but they should also bring a sense of excitement as they motivate you and your team to improve and grow.
Be selective with hiring decisions
Company culture is made by the people within the organization, so bringing on new members to the team could shift the culture one way or another. Every single employee influences the entire group, and it’s often a person’s soft skills that make the biggest impact. People who are not able to work well with others, or who lack the confidence and ability to stay focused on the task at hand could have a negative pull on the rest of the group.
For this reason, hiring decisions during a time of cultural shift should be made even more carefully than before. HR teams and managers should be very picky when it comes to bringing on new talent and take culture fit and impact into consideration before making a final decision.
Many businesses that prioritize culture fit and soft skills find it useful to utilize AI-driven recruiting tools, such as the machine learning-based Harver, which qualifies potential candidates based on skill assessments. The algorithm runs potentially thousands of profiles against company-specific assessments to gauge professional values, situation judgment, cultural fit, etc.
This allows employers to mine workplace behavioral data and gain an understanding of candidates’ values, visions, and how they will mesh with the company.
When bringing new personalities onboard, there will always be a certain degree of risk in terms of aligning visions. A company that is serious about changing the direction of the company culture must be very careful when hiring new members, as one bad hiring decision could negate all of the hard work they have done.
Redesign administrative structure
Sticking to old practices simply won’t work in an environment that is trying to change. Often, management is to blame for employee disengagement and negative culture as they set the tone for the entire organization.
Review the organizational structure of the business and see what changes could be made for better results. Each business may thrive under a different sort of structure, depending on the needs of the employees. However, clear and open communication is important during this time of culture shift no matter what structure is in place.
Remember that this also applies to all systems within the business, including the way that promotions are handled, performance management, and incentive systems. Every single aspect of the day-to-day must be examined.
It is easy to get fired up for change at the beginning of the process, but this motivation can quickly cool down as time goes on. Keeping everyone accountable for their actions is the key to long-lasting change.
Implementing a performance management software system is a great idea to encourage this accountability among the office. HighGround is a great one that uses self-evaluations along with feedback requests for true transparency throughout the organization. It also allows users to track their progression by setting personal goals that align with overall business goals, especially those related to culture change and growth.
How exactly can you define company culture? Brian Chesky, co-founder of Airbnb, has one of the simplest but best descriptions out there. As he puts it, “Culture is simply a shared way of doing something with a passion.”
Find that passion by communicating a clear vision for the company as a whole. From there, define what needs to be changed, how to change it, and incorporate the tools and practices to make it happen.
How Leaders Can Stand Up and Cast a Compelling Vision
Comedians refer to an audience that hasn’t heard any jokes yet as a “cold room.” It is thus the job of the comics who go first or second in the night to warm them up. You tell some jokes, suggest a convivial mood for the crowd, and hope they’ve brought their funny bones.
I have been backstage at a local comedy club a few times now as an amateur stand-up comic. At this club, comics have a lot of say in where they perform in the lineup. And most of them don’t want to be anywhere near the icebox slot.
So on my first outing, I opened. And something unexpected happened: People laughed.
This bomb is a dud
Aspiring comics almost always bomb on their first or second outings, and often several times beyond that. Anticipated public embarrassment is one of the barriers that keeps many people from trying stand-up.
Folks who have been doing comedy long enough are philosophical about bombing. It’s seen as paying your dues, or, more constructively, as part of the learning curve. You see what works by trying a bunch of stuff that doesn’t work—in front of a live and unforgiving audience.
But I didn’t bomb that first night. The room warmed up and I was invited back. And then I took far more chances in my second set, and didn’t bomb yet again. Netflix special, here we come!
Now, I just purposefully dropped a semi-lame joke on you to prove a point: I’m not some comic genius. But I do have one thing going for me that could be of use to leaders as you work to communicate your vision to all-comers.
Wait for it…
“Great writing!” is the supreme compliment veteran comedians will pay to a particularly well-turned set.
The phrase may leave some folks outside of comedy scratching their heads. Sure, the comic is drawing on a trunk full of jokes and stories, they might concede, but what about timing and improvisation? Aren’t those things more important to bring the laughs?
But that’s the wrong way of looking at the problem. Yes, timing and improvisation matter, but it’s a lot easier to pace and punctuate and ad lib if you have written something solid that’s meant to be performed.
Start your pencils
You can use the same approach to putting together a short presentation to sell your vision that a comic might use in crafting a set. How?
First, you get many words out on paper. If your typing fingers aren’t accommodating, dictation software has gotten so good that even your pet parrot could manage.
Next, you’ll want to kill a lot of those words with extreme prejudice. If you want people to pay attention, cut needless verbiage, dial back the jargon, make sure the words you do use can pop off the page and into people’s heads.
Then, commit as much of it as you can to memory. This might sound difficult, but if so then you need to do a better job of writing it. Write things that you can remember because you want to remember them. Come up with hooks along the way to keep you on track.
Finally, rehearse what you have to say. You can do this silently or out loud, to yourself or to family, friends, or to small, hopefully non-captive audiences. Repeat individual parts that are giving you fits to file off the rough linguistic edges.
If the problem persists, rewrite it, or go see a word doctor.
The small talk can wait
One final thought about performance: How a comedian opens his set matters a great deal for setting audience expectations.
I once heard a comic go on a rant about what a waste it is to walk out of the door and open with “How are you all doing tonight?” or similar boilerplate. Do not do that, the comic cautioned. Instead, hit your audience with something that grabs them from word one and practically forces the reaction you’re going for.
Hit your audience with something that grabs them from word one and practically forces a reaction.
That seems to me like sound advice, not just for the comedy stage but for all presentations. So go forth and be memorable. Try not to bomb along the way.
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