June 27, 2019
Developing a compelling vision is one thing. Communicating that vision to the campus community and beyond is quite another.
John Kotter (one of my favorite authors) outlines six key elements in the communication of a vision:
When it comes to communicating vision a basic rule comes into play: If you have to explain it you lose. In other words, keep your vision, and your communication strategy, simple. Avoid jargon, technobabble, and planning speak.
Karl Albrecht uses a metaphor of a northbound train to describe how visions provide direction and purpose.
Metaphors are powerful because they link the familiar, with its attributes, to the new. Everyone understands northbound trains.
Here’s another basic rule of effective communication: one message, multiple channels. When internal audiences hear the same message from six different directions, it stands a better chance of being heard and remembered.
Even the most carefully crafted messages rarely stick the first time they are read or heard. The harsh reality is that any single communication will be lost amidst the thousands of others received that day. In addition, a single airing won’t address all the questions we have. As a result, effective communication almost always requires repetition.
Often the most powerful way to communicate a new vision is through changed behavior. When mid-level employees see the cabinet acting out the vision, a whole set of troublesome questions about credibility and game playing tends to evaporate. We call this communicating by example. Seeing a president stop and offer directions to a visiting family sends an important signal.
Show me the vision. Or, as the Italian proverb reminds us, “words do not make flour.”
Bob Sevier tells about the time he worked with a senior team in South Carolina:
The boardroom looked like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise. I could turn the lights on and off, control the sound, open and close the shades, even raise and lower a projection unit and screen from a central control panel. I could also adjust the heat and probably order bagels. One wall of the room had floor-to-ceiling windows running an expanse of some 50 feet. The carpet was plush. The seats—all 20 or so—leather. Along another wall was a series of electronic white boards. I was able to write on the white board, press a button, and out would pop a hard copy of what I had written. Of course, I could also save it to a file. The president could see that I was amazed by the room. He then told me it was equipped with surround sound but they really didn’t use it that much.
The purpose of our meeting was to discuss how the financial aid budget could be reduced.
I had a very difficult time that afternoon and even now, many months and miles removed, I still get a sense of dissonance when I think of it.