When you look back over the course of human evolution, it’s evident that every advance has been due to some intentional application of energy. Creating culture is no exception; it takes an immense amount of energy from a lot of people over a sustained period of time.
To create a positive culture, then, the question becomes how to harness energy, steer it in the right direction and make sure it’s sustained long enough to make a difference.
As CEO, you need to create what I like to call a “Big Bang Vision”—one that gathers a tremendous amount of potential energy and releases it in a focused way, thereby becoming available throughout your organization. The emotional energy that exists between all people—human energy—represents a vast amount of potential. If we can pull that together, we can leverage it in a Big Bang way.
Here are three ways you can create that Big Bang:
1. Make the Vision Big and Compelling:
Your cultural vision has to be compelling enough to appeal to people’s imaginations, capture their hearts and mindshare, and get them excited about the prospect of being involved. To get a sense of what big vision looks like, take a quick look at this video clip (click here) that depicts John F. Kennedy’s 1962 “Race to the Moon” speech. Then ask yourself: Did he have a big vision, was it compelling, was it broad, and did it give you a sense of pride? You’ll most likely answer “yes.”
In creating vision, it’s important to know what you’re trying to achieve and who it is that you’re trying to target or attract to the cause. We have to understand what might be important to them and what they might be feeling or experiencing in their lives (both professionally and personally). Take the example above from JFK.
At that moment in time our nation was in need of unification and solidarity. The Cold War was in full swing, fear of nuclear war hung over American’s heads, racial tensions were high and the conflict in Vietnam was sowing seeds of discourse. Recognizing all of this, Kennedy used the pride and inherent competitive nature of Americans—combined with the appeal to the imagination that outer space held—and created a vision that was all-inclusive and would unite our country.
As we look to create big vision for ourselves, we need to craft something that will instill in our target audience a sense of pride. We were all proud to be Americans throughout the Race to the Moon. Likewise, we want our employees or teammates to be proud to be a part of our vision and culture.
2. Make the Vision Shared:
Once you’ve attracted the right people with your big, compelling vision, the next step is to ensure that the maximum amount of their potential energy is applied in the right direction. This means we have to minimize the number of distractions that consume/attract our energy.
The biggest distraction is also the most primal of reflexes affecting humans, the survival instinct. When we perceive a threat or feel unsafe, we expend energy—either voluntarily or involuntarily. This robs our people of energy that could be applied in support of our vision. So it stands to reason that we should find a way to make our people feel safe. After all, when we feel safe, we have more energy available.
As human beings, we naturally feel safe when we are in the presence of other trusted people. In fact, there is scientific evidence that supports this notion; one such theory is the Social Baseline Theory, which states that humans have evolved such that we naturally have more energy to use in constructive ways when we are in the presence of others we trust. We even perceive the effort required to accomplish tasks more optimistically when we are socially comfortable, as proven by numerous scientific studies including a 2008 study by Harber, Schnall, Steffanucci and Proffitt.
For our team to feel safe, two things are required:
- They must feel that they have a future
- They must believe they are part of that future
This happens when the vision is “shared.”
A shared vision is one in which individuals see their own interests and success being made possible by the collective/organization being successful. We must paint a picture so that our teams not only believe they are necessary for the collective vision to be realized, but that they also each benefit significantly from that success.
3. Make the Vision Constant:
Cultural vision needs to be infused into everything you do—big and small. What’s more, it needs to be something that is long term, not something that just happens today, tomorrow or even over a one-year period.
If you look back at the Race to the Moon example, JFK expresses that this race is an act of faith and vision because the ultimate benefits are not known. The vision wasn’t just about getting to the moon; it was about unifying a nation to focus on progress and development. In fact, the great thing about making a vision constant is that it can even produce benefits far beyond what we may have conceived.
Many modern inventions that we have today would not exist if this race to the moon had not occurred. That vision has driven progress well beyond Neil Armstrong stepping on the moon and returning home safely.
For example, cell phone cameras were only made possible as a result of an intense focus on technology miniaturization so NASA could cram as much technology onto the spacecraft as possible. Moreover, technologies like satellite TV, radio and weather satellites, and even CAT and MRI imaging technologies wouldn’t have existed if not for the moon race (that’s right, those diagnostic imaging technologies were invented to analyze the structural integrity of space vehicles and components, who knew?).
Making a vision constant is about creating a north star for your culture, providing organizational and individual guidance through both chartered and unchartered waters. In many ways, leading with a vision that is constant is sort of like navigating with a compass versus a map. With a map, somebody has to have already seen/experienced and documented a path. With a compass, all that is needed is that reliable and consistent reference point.
Putting the Big Bang Concept into Action
Creating Big Bang Vision to fuel your culture is something that takes intent. And that starts with the CEO. In many ways, our greatest challenge is also our greatest opportunity.
Whether leading our organization, department or team, what our employees desire most from us as leaders, versus their peers, is vision. But we all know this is not the easiest thing to create. Vision is not something that you can grab hold of, measure or even see, yet it may be the most important thing in which you invest your time.
Intentional and focused investment will help create a culture that gets the results we seek. It enables us to make 1 + 1 equal more than 2. It sustains our people and creates a long-term legacy with great outcomes. This “one small step for man” (creating Big Bang Vision) provides a “giant leap for mankind” (energy to build a positive culture that lasts).
JFK Speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kwFvJog2dMw