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How to Cast a Vision So People Listen

Interview with Ken Blanchard

Episode Description

[Listen to this episode on iTunes]

Twenty-five years ago, I was sitting in the musty break room of a RadioShack in Portland, Oregon, where I’d just gotten a job.

My manager walked up to me, tossed a book on the desk, and said, “Don, I just want you to know, this is how I’m going to lead you.”

I read every word, and I remember looking at the author’s name on the cover and thinking, “This is the smartest guy in the world.”

That book was The One Minute Manager, by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson. And that copy was one of millions that changed the way leaders communicate with their teams.

This is the idea at the core of Ken’s book:

Communication with our employees is best when it’s short and clear.

Let’s face it. As leaders, we tend to overcomplicate things for our teams.

We start out with good intentions. We make grandiose plans. We write convoluted documents. We stuff so many words into our mission statements that it starts to sound like an SAT vocabulary quiz. We schedule a big meeting and order a delightful variety of Panera bagels for it.

But here’s what we miss: crafting one, simple compelling idea that our team can rally around.

Since the groundbreaking success of The One Minute Manager, Ken Blanchard has spent his legendary career exploring how business leaders can communicate more simply.

In one of life’s mind-blowing, full-circle moments, I recently got the opportunity to interview him for the Building a Story Brand podcast. He shares a four-part approach for creating a simple, clear vision for your team. Here it is:

1. Articulate Your Vision in Simple, Aspirational Terms

What business is Disney in? Amusement parks? Movies? Merchandise?

Nope. If you ask any employee, they’ll tell you — they’re in the happiness business.

Look beyond your product offerings, industry, and ideas. What’s the big-picture thread that connects everything? For Disney, it’s happiness (not amusement parks). For Zappos, it’s delightful service (not shoes). For your organization, it may be style, or trustworthiness, or results.

You can’t simplify this core idea enough. Why? Because employees have to recall it instantly as they make decisions. It becomes the filter for everything they do — every customer interaction, every creative piece, every purchase order. Without it, your organization will falter.

If nobody knows what the vision and direction and goals are, then employees have nothing to serve but themselves.

If nobody knows what the vision and direction and goals are, then employees have nothing to serve but themselves.

Once you know the core idea, you can use it to define the values of your vision. Aim for 3-4 more specific strategies or beliefs that support your big idea. (For more on values, listen to this podcast from the Canlis brothers.)

2. Get Feedback and Buy-In From Your Team

Yes, this vision will be your baby. It has to come from you. But your team is going to help you raise it.

Involve them early. Share drafts and ask for your team’s input. That way, everyone who contributes will feel a level of ownership over the ideas.

What you have to do in an organization is manage the present and create the future at the same time.

3. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat.

Ken told me a great story about a time he had lunch with Max De Pree, the legendary chairman of the design company Herman Miller.

Ken asked, “What’s your job as chairman of this great company?”

Max replied, “Ken, I have to be like a third grade teacher. I have to say the vision and values over and over and over again, until people get it right, right, right.”

That’s your job, too. You’ve got to continually reinforce the vision through repetition. You’re going to feel like you’re a broken record. Guess what. You are! You’re the one who has to hold up the banner, point to it, and remind people that this is what we’re about.

4. Adapt and Reset

Your company is like a living organism — changing, shifting, and growing. Your vision has to change with it.

Take time alone periodically to reconnect with your vision. Get out in nature or spend time with people you love. Business is an endurance sport. Like any athlete, you have to prioritize rest and recovery.

When you get your head out of your business, you’ll be amazed at what happens. Your mind will find fresh vision. You’ll realize how you need to adapt your vision to a key shift in the marketplace. Or if nothing else, you’ll discover new energy and passion for your current plan.

Listen to the full interview with Ken Blanchard today on the Building a Story Brand podcast. He’ll inspire you to start communicating differently with your team. You’ll have a more mobilized, effective, and unified staff to show for it — and better results for your business.

Your customers need simple communication, too.

With clearer, simplified marketing, you’ll cut through the noise and win more business. Our free video course shows you how. Sign up here!

Podcast produced by: Tim Schurrer
Additional editing by: Nick Jaworski

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