Sunday, February 15, 2009

Having Vision but Flying Blind

They're misunderstood, if not neglected entirely. They're maligned. They're abused. They each need to be adopted ... by all of us.

I won't be so bold as to say whether Obama or I first sweetened to this set of keys. Clearly, however, we've all been burned by their absence. At least the new administration is trying them out. And I don't mean vision, itself.

You see, having vision is a great thing. Quite rare is the fortitude to choose the right path in spite of the fear mongers, detractors, and wailing interest groups. More rare, however ... in fact, nearly extinct these days ... is successful execution. My recent blog bemoaned and pondered the failings of the US over the past few years. To me, these were seldom from lack of vision, skill, or will. The ideas were sound. The people were smart. But despite having vision coming out of all orifices, they were flying completely blind. Calamity came from complete failures of execution.

Utter failures of execution. On many levels.

It is thus nice to begin to see ghosted hints and hear soft whispering breezes indicating that some people in corporate and political America "get it." It's early days, and this blog will have many follow-ups, but let me describe what's on my radar so far:

A focus on communication.

    • Conveying the right message. One side effect of our current info overload is that people have become amazingly good at hearing. People hear more than just the words spoken and can quickly identify the message being conveyed. Too often, Bush administration representatives were speaking about one thing (terrorists in Guantanimo, for example) but projecting a message about something entirely else (caginess from a deep mistrust of the current justice system or the public stomach). It is critical that speakers determine, memorize, and deeply understand the message they're trying to convey. This doesn't mean memorizing a speech and presenting it deer-in-headlights style. It means knowing the message well enough to convey it while sounding like a real person. This builds trust. So does consistency. For an administration, the SAME message needs to be broadcast via multiple channels. It needs to be immutable in its repetition. And the message needs to be right. It needs to be strategic. In the corporate world, for example, the message should convey a specific brand identity and aspiration.
    • Closely related is Selling the value proposition. Yes, this is Corporate Newspeak. Said in plain English, this means that communicators need to really understand the relative benefits of what they're advocating. This needs to be incorporated into their message every time they communicate. To say it even more simply: sell, sell, sell.
    • Communication isn't a one-way street. Listening actively to feedback is not optional. It is a diferentiator between failure and success. Actively means listening to and understanding everything they say, literally and in terms of message. It means checking your understanding "So your main goal is X because Y?" It means accepting things that don't sync with your view or message. Once understood and accepted, communicators must be willing to do the unthinkable: incorporate their message into their own, either by responding or by absorbing.
    • Taking another step back, though, communicators need to make damn sure they've got the right vision as well as message. They can blunder through it; they can be lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time; OR they can do it the right way by investing in information. They must collect, standardize, and analyze data. They must ensure their people AND their audience are properly educated on the issues. They must be brave enough to risk some time and money in skunkworks which may yield nothing, may yield something that doesn't fit with their current vision.

A focus on accountability.

    • You cannot have accountability unless you know what your goals are
    • Then you must identify what the measurements of success should be
    • Then you must measure what the current state is. Now. With all it's warts.
    • Finally you need to build the right incentive programs. You need to test your carrots and sticks for perverse incentives.

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