Better Business on Purpose
Episode 4: How to Use Strategy – Shared Vision
In this episode, we’ll dive eye-first into various dimensions of defining and implementing shared vision within your executive team, and how shared vision can be used as a foundational tool for developing high-performance teams. For some reason, Butler admits he was in a hearing on Capitol Hill and wants us to believe it’s all just fine now. #cantbelieveitsnotbutler
This podcast is presented by Mission & Fields, consulting and coaching to take your business to the next level. The “Better Business on Purpose” podcast exists to spur you on in pursuing the deeper questions related to leading a business, questions that require the interaction of strategy and identity.
Yates – Hello, welcome to the Better Business On Purpose podcast. This is your host, Yates Jarvis, and I’m here with the renowned Butler Stoudenmire. How you doing today, Butler?
Butler – I’m renowned, I’m here.
Yates – What are you renowned for, if your best friends and worst enemies could tell the truth?
Butler – Mm, mm, I was in a Dierks Bentley music video this one time, and I was also on some Capitol Hill hearings. There have been a few other things, so I’m kind of like a Forrest Gump figure, is what some people have said. I show up in these moments in history that are interesting.
Yates – What were you in Capitol Hill hearings for? Let’s maybe just kind of assuage anyone’s fears about who they’re listening to.
Butler – When I was in college, I interned on Capitol Hill one summer, and I wound up in a couple of hearings right behind witnesses, so you can find me on C-SPAN, if you’re watching C-SPAN.
Yates – Oh, okay, that’s one of those where you wound up, that’s like “Seinfeld” when they’re like, you know, and than yadda yadda yadda, and then Hitler rose to power.
Butler – Exactly.
Yates – Wound up is, okay, well we’ve got a hot topic today. It’s only hot to you and I. We hope it becomes hot to everybody else. And that is the topic of shared vision, shared vision, right?
Butler – Yes.
Yates – So, I know that shared, it sounds really nice. You imagine like a team and like a basketball team or a football team or whatever having a shared vision. It’s kind of obvious, the shared vision is go put the ball in that hoop and there’s other aspects of aligning on how we’re going to do that. But with discrete tasks, the vision is pretty simple. But the further away that we get from really clear tasks, the harder it is for human beings to have a shared vision, to communicate well around it, to not make it personal, and to make it personal in good ways, but not in bad ways. So, there’s a lot of work to do around shared vision. I guess we should first off start with making a case for why developing a shared vision is important or even, you know, what that could look like in a business. Could you just talk for a couple minutes, Butler, about what shared vision is and what you think it might be, and why it might be important to develop it?
Butler – Sure, Yates. I am just loving the fact that you brought up a sport’s analogy, because literally when I knew we were going to be talking about shared vision today that’s what came to mind. And I was thinking of this example when I, back in my intern days a few years and gray hairs ago, I was working on this project where we were working on performance improvement plans, not that I necessarily like the terminology and all the structure around that, but for–
Yates – That’s another one not to give to a wife, by the way.
Butler – Yeah.
Yates – Or vice versa.
Butler – I could imagine. So, it had to do with leaders who were low performing in our organization and how they could better inspire their teams. And so, we were in the middle of this big project, and I ended up one YouTube one night and in my recommended videos were all of these emotional moments from the Master’s tournaments in years past. And it hit me where there were all these moments where these athletes, these men, were ecstatic to the point that they were running to their caddies and hugging them, and they were crying together. And you see those kinds of moments in sports all the time when people get to the end of a season, or the end of a tournament, and are emotionally moved. And so we talked about that, and we said why is it that, that’s the case? And when is it that two teammates here at our organization were moved to tears and to hug each other by the quality and outcome of their work?
Yates – Right.
Butler – I don’t think it’s happened recently, so what’s the difference? And there’s a lot of things that go into that, but I think the biggest thing is that clearly defined shared vision on a team and you know where you’re trying to go and what you’re trying to achieve, and everyone is doing their part to get there. And when it’s a big enough and inspirational enough vision, people are willing to put their emotions and put their efforts to the point of emotional breakdown and emotional soaring on the line, and that’s when you wind up with those situations where you have people crying and hugging, proud of the work that they’ve done. So, that didn’t necessarily answer the question you asked, but that just goes to the right to the heart of I think a sports analogy is a great way to think about shared vision, when you’re thinking about the shared vision on your own team, because it really does give everybody on the team the ability to see where you’re trying to go and the importance of their role in that. Because you said basketball, I thought about football more so, ’cause I’m a bigger football fan maybe, but, you know, there are people out on that field who have very different tasks and very different roles, but they’re all excited when they get to the end of the game and they’ve won. It’s just defining what is it to win.
Yates – You know, I root for Wake Forest which depending on the sport is an easy thing to do or a very difficult thing to do. A recent, our basketball team has been struggling, at best, would be the word to use if I was one to be nice about it. As a fan this year, you don’t want to be nice about it after five years of this stuff. But one of the things that the coaches, Danny Manning has done, old Kansas Star, is ever since he came in, even with a struggling program, he’s tried to establish a vision which is like the ability, like if we’re talking about what is shared vision, it’s the ability to see something in common with one another that hasn’t yet happened that is a good thing to pursue and maybe is beyond our ability to comprehend how we’ll get there. You know, if it’s something where we can easily see the steps to get there, we make $1 today as a business so tomorrow, or you know, in the next five years we’ll make $2. That’s really easy to see how we’re going to do that. But building a shared vision that’s aspirational and is something that pushes you to be your best is a harder thing to do. But oftentimes they sound completely wacko, so you’re looking at a team that has been on the decline. He comes and steps in and says, hey the shared vision for us, a vision that we’re going to hold together, is to cut down nets. Which means to win championships. And you’re sitting there going, okay, good luck with that. We’ve literally never made that occur. Think of all the voices that come into play, when you’re talking about what could happen but hasn’t yet happened. The voices that are the most negative or contrarian or, as they like to call it, realistic, right? Those are loud, powerful voices, not necessarily the volume of the voice, but the points that they’re making are strong, because the past can’t prove the future in these cases where you’re building a grand shared vision. So you look at cutting down the nets, and you’re going, that’s nuts. And the same thing happens with an organization, when you’re trying to build a shared vision, it’s so easy to set that vision way too small. And we talked about that with targets.
Butler – Right.
Yates – I guess on episode two. It’s the same exact thing with a vision, you have to be able to set it large enough for it to be something that you can pursue, that you can’t even really imagine accomplishing. One company that I was managing director of had a vision and we were setting a revenue goal, and I think they set it at something. After a day of debate, we five x’d it and everyone in the room thought it was insane. They were going yeah okay, sure, we’ll do that. No one believed it was even possible. We achieved it within two years instead of the 10 that they thought it was going to be impossible to obtain it within. So, it just goes to show you you really don’t know what you can or can’t accomplish, and when it’s a sports team, everybody’s setting the goal to, you know, cut down nets. If you’re the men’s soccer team for the USA, you’re not not trying to get the World Cup and win. You’ve got a shared vision, it might be the strategy, it might be taking it a game at a time, and you might have some in game strategies to do it. But everyone’s, you know, going in that direction.
Butler – Yeah, and I think that’s the advantage that sports teams have, is, yes, the goal may be a little lofty or may seem a little crazy, because how are we going to win the championship this year, but everybody understands that the purpose is to win, is to have more points than the opponent, or fewer points depending on the sport. But in an organization and in a business organization, that’s another challenge beyond knowing the appropriate target to set or around which you’re creating your shared vision, but what is the vision? And how do you define success? And how do you focus on one thing or two things or three things as opposed to all the many diffuse efforts that are likely going on in your organization?
Yates – Yeah, yeah, that’s a really good point. Even once, let’s say, when we get to a point where we figured out, okay, here’s what we’re going to aim for. It feels hairy, and really bold, but we’ve agreed we’re going to go after this. Whether it’s a revenue target or a market share, or something, and it doesn’t have to be financial by the way. Many organizations have visions that are not financial. But you’ve got it set, and it’s meaningful. Once you do that, you’ve got to develop shared vision. So, you know, at that point you might have a vision, and it might just be a vision from the executive team, but now the challenge is how do you build shared vision among the executive team, let alone the rest of the company? And that shared vision means people understand it, like you would understand winning a championship. They understand the value of it, they understand the beauty of it, they understand the potential of it, they understand the prioritization of it. But one of the things that I think is often ignored in developing the shared vision is that you have to first understand what everyone’s current reality is. So, in order to develop that shared vision you have to understand what someones currently reality is, because you’re asking them to go on a journey from where they are to where they’re going to go. So, shared vision isn’t something you can just do in one day. Does that make sense?
Butler – Absolutely, you have to know where they are, in order for them to have a way to get to where you want them to go.
Yates – So, I mean these conversations, you can imagine the CEO having to talk to a COO and you’re going, hold on, Yates, are you telling me, I’m going to have to have 50, if my executive team is 50 people, if you’re like Sears or something. Or if my executive team is five people and three of them are remote, you want me to go talk to all of them, find out their current reality and build a bridge, I mean either you do that or you don’t. If you don’t do it, if you don’t work work with where people are and help them to see how they’re going to approach the vision, what’s going to happen is they’re going to do that on their own. They’re going to assess where they are, and they’re going to assess the vision, and they’re going to build their own path to get there. And that may be very different from your strategy, or they may think it’s impossible, and managing that internal dialogue and that internal visual map is so important to an executive being able to develop a shared vision, because if you have a member of your executive team that does not see things the same way that you do, is in a different place in terms of how they see current reality. Again, we talked about one exec maybe thinking, hey, the company is doing great right now, and another might think the company is about to blow up, you know, things aren’t working out well, and we’re on the cusp of losing so much of our client base, or whatever. There are different versions in people’s minds of even the current status of the company, so when you ask them to go triple sales and they already think that it’s halved over the last year, and somebody else thinks it’s been growing, literally you think it would be insane for that to occur, we’re talking about facts here. You know, okay Yates, I get it, you’re talking about subjective things, but when it’s objective things like the KPI of the business, there’s no way people see it differently. It’s absolutely rampant. Absolutely rampant. Because the reporting is not consistent, people are not brought up to speed with the data, the data itself may be inaccurate or misleading, the data itself may be too small and not the larger picture. So, you can see how you can quickly have a lot of dysfunction within an executive team when you’re trying to build a vision if you don’t know where people are at currently with their assessment of the company and its needs.
–Butler Yeah, and I’ve found, as the senior leader in my organization, that in order to have those conversations there’s already a lot of work that has had to have been done which is namely to have strong relationships with the executive team and to have a strong team where people are willing to trust each other, and express each other honestly, express themselves honestly with each other. Because otherwise you’re either going to get somebody who’s telling you what you want to hear, or is not saying what they want to say, and then you can’t truly diagnose where they are and know where you need to get them.
Yates – What would keep you as a, you know, you’re the CEO in a med-health company in Albany, Georgia. What would keep you from having conversations with an individual on the executive team to better understand their current reality? You know, the way that they see it, in order to shape your language, to shape your deliverables, to shape your story telling, to shape your collaboration with them, to build a shared vision? What keeps you from having those one on one convos, and maybe the number of one on one convos that might be necessary?
Butler – There’s a few things at play. You know there’s just time. Time and priority as we’ve talked about. There’s fires that need to be put out here and there. There’s other things that aren’t fires that need to be worked on right now. And sometimes that just takes precedence. Other times, it’s a matter of if I know there’s some other dynamic going, maybe we’re going to be pivoting over here or over there, and we’re going to be changing up that person’s role a little bit. Maybe this isn’t the exact time that I want to use that capital up right now. So, that’s two examples. Sometimes it may be there’s some kind of past history that hasn’t completely been worked through yet, and it can create some awkwardness or some tension. Or maybe you know I don’t feel like we’ve created that relationship yet where it’s truly going to be a meaningful conversation, but at the end of the day the bullet just needs to be bit and the conversation needs to happen, and that may be a part of building that strong relationship.
Yates – Yeah, I mean imagine, what is more important to the business than a conversation where two members of the executive team understand each other’s perspectives of current reality and start to address the differences in those perspectives, add data into them, challenge them, you know, be able to build a shared perspective of current reality. Are we doing well or are we not? Literally, I’m serving as a fractional role at an organization right now, where I’m in a fractional executive and there are members of the team, and I’m telling you this, it’s everywhere I go, a couple guys think that the place is just tanking. And there’s two men and another woman that think that things are on the up and up and this is the best it’s ever been. And trying to communicate to them the vision and then help them to understand that there’s a way to get it to happen that isn’t going to just kill them or dismantle the business. You can’t do that unless you start to build a shared perspective on these pieces and that often takes some individual pre-wiring, like what you’re talking about. Pre-wiring is a McKinsey terminology, or at least in one of the, you know, McKinsey consulting books. Which means just having those conversations before a larger conversation, where you’re understanding their hot button points and how they think. And then also just having a couple knock down drag out, it doesn’t have to be aggressive but might get there, two to three hour conversations as a team to where you walk out of that room saying, hey, we’re all going to see the same thing by time we get out of here, so everyone has to play by certain rules to help our team do that because if we’re seeing the world differently, we’re all going to be grabbing the steering wheel to do something different with the car. And the way that this thing needs to be operated is we need to work in concert with one another. And so, you know, this is about building shared vision, but at the end of the day you can see how healthy this is for so many other aspects of being a human on an executive team.
Butler – We talk about business and we joked about maybe a performance improvement plan isn’t something good for a marriage. I think you and I are both firm believers that, at the end of the day, business is about human relationships and interactions, and it’s really no different than any other relationship that you have in your life where you need to be taking the time to cultivate the depths of the relationships and also the breadths of them. And you need to be having difficult conversations, and there’s crucial conversations, and really just building deep relationships, and that gives you the ability that when it comes time to perform, I’m thinking about the sports team analogy again, there’s so much time spent in practice and off the field making that team primed and ready to go for the few hours they’re on the field and I think that’s a great way to kind of wrap up this discussion on shared vision and take it back to the sports analogy in terms of there’s got to be a lot of work done ahead of time before you’re truly defining what that shared vision is and getting everybody on board with it.
Yates – I mean, if someone were to ask my personal opinion on this, I tell ya, for me personally, building shared vision, this opportunity for these conversations, it’s the business activities are an excuse for relationships. You’re going to die, we all know that as a fact, we all have a shared perspective on that current reality. That’s going to happen, nobody’s escaped that, that we know of within our families or friends. So, you’re going to die, and what we’ve got of value is our relationships. You could say we have experiences, and that’s true and there’s a lot of things that we could have but doing those things alone, I just don’t know if that’s good for anybody. So, often when we think about business and all these tools, that we’re trying to use to improve the business. There are two truths. One is these are great tools to improve the business. And another truth is that your business is made up of human beings at this point, you know, until it’s all AI maybe some of this will change, but it’s human beings. And you need to look at the tools to improve business as an opportunity to improve relationships. And if you’re seeing the dual-sided blade of business tools for people and for profit, then you’re going to be able to wield those tools with high energy, high purpose, mindfulness, and excitement about what could come. Thank you again for listening to the Better Business on Purpose podcast. We hope that this content is going to help you take a better look at your business and to answer some questions for your business that could help it improve. In the next episode, we’ll be discussing competitive advantage. How you generate it, and how you capture it for your business. If you have any questions, please send us an email at BBOP@missionandfields.com We look forward to talking again soon. Goodbye now.