Why don't we have a single vision?

To win the hearts and minds of staff, employers must consult and share.
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The Independent Online
Do you believe strongly in your employer's vision for the future? Do you wholeheartedly agree with your employer's goals and are you fully committed to them? Do you have complete confidence in your organisation's leaders? And do you really believe that your views and participation are valued? No?

Then you are not alone. Two-thirds of the British workforce feel undervalued, uninvolved, and lack confidence in their organisations' leaders and vision, according to a recent Mori survey sponsored by the Marketing & Communications Agency (MCA).

To compete successfully in world markets, and provide customers with quality services in a rapidly changing environment, organisations need intellectual and emotional commitment from their employees. But employers do not appear to be getting it.

One of the survey's objectives was to find out the level of people's understanding of their employer's goals. This is described in MCA jargon as their "intellectual buy-in or alignment". Another was to determine staff commitment to these goals, or their "emotional buy-in or engagement". And a third was how effective an organisation's communications are in influencing staff understanding and commitment.

Only half of those interviewed strongly agreed that they have "bought in" intellectually (48 per cent) and emotionally (51 per cent). Employers clearly have a long way to go to win either minds or hearts.

On winning minds, only one in four agreed strongly that they have a clear sense of their organisation's vision and direction for the future. It is not surprising that only just over a third strongly agree that "I understand what I need to do in my own job to support these aims and goals", or that "I have the knowledge and skills to do my job in a way that supports these aims and goals". With the ever-growing importance of teamworking, it is also worrying that less than one in five strongly agrees that "the people in my team or work area know how we contribute to our organisation's overall goals". Only 14 per cent strongly agreed with all five intellectual benchmarks.

The picture on winning hearts is even more bleak. Only slightly more than a quarter strongly agree that they are committed to giving their best to help their organisation succeed and just over a third feel strongly that they play an important part in meeting their customers' needs. Moreover, fewer than one in six agrees strongly that "I have confidence in my organisation's leadership" or that "I believe in my organisation's vision for the future". Fewer than one in 10 strongly agrees that "my views and participation are valued by my organisation". And only five per cent strongly agreed with all six emotional benchmarks.

Although managers were slightly more committed than non-managers to organisational goals, they show no more understanding of their organisations' overall goals than their staff. Often the blind are leading the blind.

As might be expected from a marketing and communications consultancy, MCA emphasises the importance of communications. Its report says: "Our research also shows a direct link between good communication and strong buy-in. The majority of people with high levels of buy-in rate their company's communication highly, and those with low levels generally rate communication as average or poor." The conclusion drawn is that "communication has proven a strong tool in building commitment".

Some might argue that this report has not proved a causal effect. The highly motivated might be predisposed to rate their organisation's communications highly whatever their intrinsic quality, while the disaffected will view the same messages more cynically.

The findings hint that many organisations lack a clear communications strategy. The call for better communications is supported by the 1997 and 1998Quality of Working Life tracking study from the Institute of Management and Manchester School of Management at Umist. The 1,300 managers questioned each year were asked what advice they would give to their board to improve the quality of working life. In both years the majority (over 40 per cent) referred to "the poverty of organisational, communications and consultation strategies". The top recommendation was to "improve communication and consultation upwards and downwards".

In the context of how internal and external change is affecting most organisations, the authors, professors Les Worrall and Cary L Cooper, say the key to success or failure lies in the way change is introduced and communicated.

If you merely "tell", this takes no account of your staff's fears or hopes. If you "tell and sell", but without discussion, your reasons will not hold up in the long term. They conclude: "Look for real participation, sharing the problem-solving and decision-making with those who are to implement the change. Commitment and ownership should result."

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