While touring the NASA headquarters, President John F. Kennedy introduced himself to a janitor who was mopping the floor and asked him what he did at NASA. The janitor replied, “I’m helping put a man on the moon". The janitor got it – he understood the vision and his part in it. He had a purpose. Most importantly, he could translate the vision into the job at hand and focus on getting that floor clean to support the team in its endeavour.
Regardless of how great your vision is, you must translate it into action for yourself and your team. If you think you've got great potential, it might just mean you're not doing much right now!
Vision is important, as is purpose, ‘why’, mission and every other compass-like, directional concept that helps maintain motivation and alignment. However, all of it would come to nothing without action. As entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk puts it: “When it all comes down to it, nothing trumps execution”.
Translating the gap between vision and action is critical for everyone, from individuals through to large organisations. Ask yourself: What is the connection between the action I will take today and the place I am aiming for in the future? How can I confidently (and mindfully) focus my energy and attention on the actions and progress of the day knowing there is a direct connection to the bigger picture? How do I avoid the delicious notion of procrastinating on my perfect vision, so I can actually progress towards my imperfect (but good enough) direction?
Lost in Translation
Without translation of vision into action, we tend to fall into various types of inertia:
- People struggle to be motivated by their daily activities and lose productivity
- Energy is invested into action that doesn't drive towards the vision you aspire
- Teams in larger organisations begin to lack alignment of activity and fail to help each other in getting things done
- You end up spending a lot of time and energy spinning your wheels, getting no closer to creating your vision
The process of translating your vision into action can also test your planned approach. If you are doing things that aren’t a natural thread towards your vision, maybe you shouldn't be doing them at all. If your team can't quickly articulate their piece in the puzzle, then they might not be spending their time or energy towards your vision. The 'Vision-Action Gap' might not be obvious at first, but it can cause wheels to spin in every direction and cause impedance towards your goal.
Follow the Yellow Brick Road
The above concept comprises a number of steps, including Strategic Planning, Tactics, Organisational Design, Business Planning, Communication and Team Engagement, all of which can be applied to suit the nature and scale of any business, project or individual. But to keep this post digestible, I'd suggest taking the following steps:
- Even if your vision is imperfect, understand the general direction it lies and point everything at it
- Regardless of how far out your vision may be, bring it to a first horizon (maybe 12-36 months) so you can see it and describe that milestone clearly
- List your primary work streams and activities (and those of your team) and draw some connection between those efforts and your first horizon. It's okay if some activities drive directly towards your objective, while others merely support those outcomes
- Make sure you purge or de-prioritise the activities that struggle to connect to your objectives and are not supportive of it
- Take action, move forward, make progress – regardless of how small, or how perfectly linear your objective may be
- Measure, even if it’s roughly, your progress and celebrate that you are now closer to your vision than you were before
- Rinse. Repeat!
I love working with others to help solve such problems, and I encourage everyone to #FindYourWhy and have purpose in their lives. Also remember, that any strength over-played will become a weakness so don’t spend too much time in Vision-land. Set the course, take some action and celebrate progress, because moving forward in the direction of your vision is much more rewarding than constantly wondering what that vision might look like. It's amazing how much clearer things get when you're just a little bit closer.
By Peter Seligman, Director - Alpin Advisory