INFLUENCER: Vision, values and more with Jonny Tooze, Founder and MD at Lab
Have you ever started an internal project and at the outset thought, ‘This is going to be bloody hard’? Yes, we all have. There’s a reason for this and it’s nothing to do with your intelligence.
Any internal project needs support, and not just in the form of a big PO and a target stuck on your back, but true support from your leadership who are all aligned and really clear on what they are trying to achieve. A project needs to be done for the right reasons, and those reasons need to be shared.
A train only works with rails.
As an extremely human-savvy agency and with a strong focus on digital, we’re in a unique position to help clients remove the ‘hard’ bits from their internal projects.
In this post, I’m going to give you some awesome insight into what some of the biggest organisations still fail to do effectively, and give you the five top tips to fundamentally transform your organisation.
Kicking off with…
As a leader, you must make it clear to the world what you’re trying to achieve. If people don’t know, then they will think you are mad. If you work in an organisation that doesn’t have a clear vision, then you should apply to become CEO as there is probably a vacancy coming up.
How do you set a vision?
Let your ambition ignite! Ask yourself what you are truly compelled to do. Not just what you desire, but what you are desperate to achieve. What part of the world do you want to change? How do you want to change it?
Remember that you are a visionary - this is coming from your soul - and you are going to live and breathe this every day. The first person who needs to be aligned with your vision is you.
This is how you’ll screw this up:
Firstly, people try and do this in the wrong state. If you’ve just shut down your budget planner or it’s still open in another tab, then you’re probably in a logical or ‘left brain’ mode, your creativity is done for the day. You must set a vision from an ‘impossible’ perspective first, a childish perspective. What would you do if money, time, energy, resources and people (and maybe even the laws of physics) weren’t a factor? Work back from there, but not too far. It’s got to be believable, but only just. It’s healthy for a vision to have some naysayers as it polarises the believers, your followers, and stiffens their resolve to make it a reality.
Secondly, you’ll start to Google ‘example company visions’. I’ll save you the bother - Apple/Google/Blah blah blah... Please don’t do it as it’s not going to help you. Be creative, be unique (you’ll thank me for that).
Lastly, you’ll get horribly confused between a shareholder vision and a company vision. The shareholder vision is the one where you can focus on boring stuff like wealth generation and financial attainment or market position, e.g. ‘To be the biggest company in our industry.’ It’s great to have this, but it doesn’t really prod the biochemistry in anyone but shareholders. Communicate this at board meetings.
The company vision is the one you can get everyone else excited about - i.e. the people that will ultimately deliver the shareholder vision whether they know it or not. Communicate this vision until everyone is sick of it, then a bit more. Soon you won’t ever need to say it as everything everyone does will be reinforcing it. Make this inspiring, ambitious and fun. Lab’s vision is to be the most human-savvy agency in the world, if that helps you with your thinking. It’s a global ambition, within a specific niche. Totally doable and we’re not a million miles away from being near it, but the cool thing is that no one can ever truly say “we’re there…” so the game never stops.
People don’t value values, and they’re also a bit confused by what organisational values are. Think of values as guiding principles, the bedrock of your culture. All organisations have them whether they like it or not.
An organisation’s values are just a mix of the values of the people that work there. If you haven’t hired or fired on your values then they aren’t values. If you’ve never thought about this before then you’ve either been doing this intuitively and brilliantly, or you’ve got a cultural mess happening and you don’t even realise it.
Quick note: If someone asks you what your company’s values are and you have to think, then they aren’t values, they aren’t real and they aren’t memorable. Try again.
If you’re a small business this process is much easier as you can just think about what your personal values are and project them into the organisation, but when you’re a bit bigger you can’t help but think a bit bigger.
Here’s what failure of this exercise produces:
‘Integrity’ - Hmm... This is what we call ‘permission to play’. Everyone in life needs to have integrity to do pretty much anything, so what’s the point in saying your organisation has ‘integrity’? Reputations are spread at the speed of light and acts that lack integrity propagate like lightning. You don’t need this as a value, as it’s there by default - along with hundreds of others. You wouldn’t list ‘hygienic’ in a dating profile, would you?
‘Innovation’ – Or as it’s otherwise known, ‘Stating the obvious’. Name me one business that doesn’t prioritise or at least invest in innovation? I can name loads, but they are now only in management consultants’ case studies of failed business models. Saying that, you can have this if you’re desperate, but only if it’s absolutely at the core of your business.
‘Kindness’ - So you might be a ‘kind’ organisation, if so – good for you, but in reality, you might be a ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ style money-grabbing business. Just because a client gave you a bit of feedback doesn’t mean that you can chuck out a new ‘value’ and think people will buy it. They won’t and it’ll harm your culture. This is called an ‘aspirational value’ and while aspirations are probably why you are reading this article, you need to think long and hard about what it might mean to live this new ‘value’. Square peg, round hole.
Ultimately, having shared values means that your people will work together better. As well as your PR department speaking in one voice, your people will behave in a similar way. This makes you consistent and predictable as an organisation, and that makes you easier to cosy up to.
A sense of purpose is crucial to the health, efficiency and alignment of any business. It creates motivation and positive energy and compels people to help fulfil your vision. A purpose creates tenacity, which is by far the most important quality to achieve success.
When it comes down to your purpose - you either have a burning desire or you’re standing on a burning platform – one or the other. If you’ve haven’t got either, then don’t read on as in all honesty you’re probably never going to succeed.
So now you’ve (hopefully) worked out what gets you out of bed, you need to succinctly communicate this to everyone around you and see if they buy it – shareholders, investors, employees, suppliers, clients and everyone involved in the success of the business.
Tip: Watch out for greed and watch out for fear. These are two obvious reasons to be compelled to do anything, and they work well, but they have consequences in terms of the culture you create.
Fear can create uncertainty and inevitably stress. It’s hard to have an organisation that communicates openly when everyone is afraid of failure or the consequences of not being perfect.
A Gecko said, “Greed is good”, and it can be for some people, but surprisingly money is not a major driver for most people in an organisation and certainly no one wants to work with an organisation that is clearly greedy. If wealth generation is your purpose then expect to be used by people who equally wish to attain wealth – at all costs. Greed is a slippery slope and is rarely rewarded.
Fear and greed, driven by the ruthlessness of emotionally detached shareholders, are very common motivators within PLCs. That’s one of these reasons why there’s so much politics and ‘arse covering’.
It’s much better to be compelled by a burning desire, to want to truly achieve greatness in whatever it is you’re doing. Remember that as an individual and an organisation you are genuinely changing the world, no matter how humble your ambitions. Start from there and elaborate.
4. Strategic Objectives
Objectives are both milestones and cornerstones. They should become clear once you’ve created a vision. To help with the process, imagine yourself in a business that has truly achieved your vision. Work backwards from there to the present day. On that journey through time, what are the core components that enabled this?
To keep it simple, remember these are just things that you need to turn your vision from a hallucination into a reality.
When a vision starts to crystallise into something tangible, more people will buy it. And aligning everyone’s personal objectives to your strategic objectives makes this work even better. This is one of the key parts of good people management.
Finish with a couple of simple questions:
Are these strategic objectives the keys to unlocking our vision?
Is everyone in the organisation working towards fulfilling these objectives?
Great, move on.
A beautifully cynical former CEO of a billion dollar revenue PLC once said to me, “Don’t kill yourself creating a complex strategy. The details of the most successful strategies you read about are filled in after the event...”
Your strategy is your plan of how you’re going to get from A to B, how you’re going to complete the strategic objectives and how you’ll make the vision a reality. It can traverse multiple logical levels, so start high and work down into a bit of detail, but not too much.
While a vision is, by necessity, a snapshot of the future, a strategy needs to be simple and crystal clear. From a leadership perspective, it’s critical to create a simple strategy that people can bring to life. The more detailed you make it the less ownership people will feel as they don’t have an opportunity to ‘make it their own’.
Instead, start your strategy with a catchy statement, something that will prompt a feeling of ‘I get it’.
You will however need some level of detail. Start with explaining why the strategic objectives are so important. Then follow up by looking at your market. What changes do you expect and when? How do they play into your ambitions? What things are you going to connect, and in what sequence, to make an outcome that will work for the organisation? There are many ways to skin a cat, and there will be many strategies that will be successful for your organisation, so pick something that feels right and that is the most likely to get buy-in.
Because it’s awesome, I’d suggest reading about Blue Ocean Strategy. The premise is that if you have competitors, like most businesses, then you are all frothing around in a red ocean, attempting to differentiate with clever new ways of describing your products and services but not much else. This approach uses new thinking to create differentiation and, ideally, reduces costs of delivery to push into a blue ocean of uncontested market space. I mainly love the metaphor but the whole premise is awesome and it’s worked for Lab and many of our clients.
Just remember that once you have a good strategy you need to ask:
Will we be unique (enough)?
Will we be compelling (enough)?
Is our plan clear and can everyone in the organisation align behind it?
To create a truly great organisation you’re going to need to work hard with more tenacity than you’ve ever mustered. But at least do the hard stuff in the right order. If you do it this way, then you significantly reduce the hard work later on. Why? Because so many of the questions that come up during discussions or projects or other activities are already answered for you. It means you don’t need to stop and think every five minutes, charging up and down logical levels to answer big questions. It means less projects will fail because they are aligned.
With this hard work behind you, and once you fully understand your customers and prospects, then you’ve laid the rails for success.
Digital agencies are in a unique position to combine business strategy, creativity, marketing and technology under one roof. The reason we continue to focus on digital is that is gives us a massive advantage. We have a unique and unprecedented perspective of customers: more and more of the touch points and interfaces with customers are digital. Not only do we have all the data, but because of our understanding of humans, it means we can create insight, leading to true business transformation.
As an agency, we’ve moved into our blue ocean, one where just knowing the nuts and bolts of digital, asking a few clever commercial questions, and creating beautiful artwork isn’t enough to escape the red ocean. Now we’re driving success for our clients through cutting-edge business consultancy and allowing customers to gain a true insight into their consumers through our award-winning neuromarketing offer.
If your agency isn’t helping to create your blue ocean strategy, then give us a call and we’ll fast-track you to the next level of thinking.
Jonny Tooze is Founder and MD at Lab