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If Your Employees Can’t Visualize Your Goals, You Won’t Achieve Them

February 5, 2014

Visualize the visionThe Nielson Group is passionate about one thing – helping our business clients grow. Setting goals for the organization and achieving them requires many things to align. Goals usually require some level of change. With that in mind, let’s discuss how our brains deal with change necessary to achieve and, more importantly, what is required to reach new accomplishment heights.

Certainly any business growth requires advance planning, including specific, measureable goals and step-wise benchmarks. These steps should be a regular part of your new year planning. What you may not be including are a set of goal visualization activities and goal visuals. Let’s take a moment to explain why vision is so crucial and offer some examples.

John Medina, the author of “Brain Rules”, often points out that vision trumps all other senses, when it comes to sensory input. This statement can be directly tied to simple brain morphology. For example, 68% of our sensory cortex is dedicated to visual processing, not auditory. While the eyes have millions of neuron connections, our ears operate off a mear 30,000 neuro-connections.

This point is driven home by memory research findings. After three days, we remember only 10% of what we heard, while combining a visual with the auditory results in 65% retention. Actually the image alone will yield 35% retention. What does any of this have to do with goal attainment?

In the book, Leading Change by John Kotter (father and leading expert on change management), Kotter offers his eight steps to change. For the third step, Developing a vision and strategy, Kotter demonstrates the why and how for creating a vision to help direct the change effort and then developing the strategies for achieving that vision. Kotter states, “Of the elements always found in successful transformation, none are more important than a sensible vision. Vision plays a key role in producing useful change by helping to direct, align and inspire actions on the part of large numbers of people. Without an appropriate vision, a transformation effort can easily dissolve into a list of confusing, incompatible, and time-consuming projects that go in the wrong direction or nowhere at all. Without a sound vision, [those big programs you are trying to initiate] won’t add up in a meaningful way or won’t stir up the kind of energy needed to properly implement the initiatives.”

MistakeGoals often made. Some people, sensing the difficulty in producing change, try to manipulate events quietly behind the scenes and purposefully avoid any public discussion of future direction. But without a vision to guide decision making, each and every choice employees face can dissolve into an interminable debate. The smallest of decisions can generate heated conflict that saps energy and destroys morale. Insignificant tactical choices can dominate discussions and waste hours of precious time.

Recently, a client wanted to revamp a very successful high potential development program that had received very high marks from participants and managers alike. A six-hour meeting and 20+ flip chart sheets later, there was no clarity or compelling statement about the new vision for the program. Without the new vision, discussing and debating the merits of designing new or changing components of the program has the very real risk of having a negative effect on participant and manager evaluations.

A useful rule of thumb: Whenever you cannot describe the vision driving a change initiative in five minutes or less and get a reaction that signifies both understanding and interest, you are in for trouble.

The simple fact is, you need to create images of your goals before they are real to you. Some of you at this point are saying, “I wrote them down, so they are in the form of an image.” Yes, however, words are an image of an image. In other words, you have to take each letter and combine them to form words and then change the words into an image of the concept being described. That is a lot of work for your brain! A more direct approach is to create actual images of your goals: line graphs of profit increases, pictures of that new office space expansion or life size poster of quotes from participants of the high potential program stating what the program’s impact had on them.

The take away is this: Having a goal is an important first step, but accomplishing our goals requires that we be able to clearly see both the path and the end results. Our mind needs to see the finish line to even start the race.

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