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Consortium for Service Innovation

Technique 8.1: Develop and Communicate a Vision

Text Box: “Knowledge is personal…  Business, generally, is not.”People are much more likely to participate in a knowledge practice if they believe in the vision and purpose of the organization. Knowledge, our life's experiences, represents a large part of who we are as individuals; it is personal. Organizations that have a compelling purpose, one that people can connect with on an emotional level, have a stronger foundation for employee contribution of knowledge than those that do not.

Vision and Motivation - What Motivates People?

We have learned a lot about what motivates people in a knowledge-centered environment. It is not sticks and carrots or rewards and punishment. The foundation (or prerequisite) is alignment to a purpose. If we care about the value proposition of the organization and we care about the people we work with, it creates the foundation for feeling good about our contribution: a sense of accomplishment is a powerful motivator. We only feel a sense of accomplishment in doing things that we care about. 

As organizations become excited about KCS the question often comes up.... "How do we incent people to use or contribute to the knowledge base?" There is compelling research on what motivates knowledge work and it is not about tangible incentives. In fact, tangible rewards can be extremely disruptive to what we are trying to accomplish.  For more details on this important topic see Herzberg's HBR article "One More Time, How do we Motivate our Employees"  and Daniel Pink's excellent book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us

Creating a Vision

A vision can take on many forms. We see four common elements to an effective vision and define the elements as:

  • A compelling purpose - a simple value proposition (a phrase, 1-5 words)
  • A mission statement - our approach to achieving the purpose (a paragraph)
  • Explicit values - defines acceptable behavior in achieving the purpose (a list)
  • The brand promise - describes the attributes of our relationship with those we serve (a list)

Some organizations engage the employees in helping to create the vision.  This promotes understanding and buy-in, but if we engage people across the organization, we have to be willing to use and act on their input.  In other organizations the elements of the vision are developed by an executive committee.  We have seen both be effective.  The important point is that we have a compelling purpose, mission statement, explicit values, and brand promise and that there is a common understanding of them at all levels of the organization.   

Engaged with a Purpose

A compelling purpose is a simple phrase that describes our value proposition. Alignment to a purpose is a result of understanding and caring. The purpose has to be something we care about, something we have a connection to. Motivation comes from a corresponding belief that one's actions will make a difference in achieving that purpose.

The purpose is what we are about. The values are the definition of acceptable behaviors in accomplishing the purpose. Our brand promise is the attributes of our relationship with those we serve.

How do we get there? To begin with, leaders have to have a strong sense of ownership and personal commitment to the compelling purpose, values and brand promise. An effective leader's enthusiasm for the purpose, values, and brand promise becomes contagious. Two key factors will make the difference: sincerity and consistency. People have an instinctive sense about leadership's integrity. That sense is reinforced or disrupted according to the consistency of the leaders' behavior with respect to the stated purpose, values and brand promise. Behavior that is consistent will resonate and create trust, buy-in, and engagement. Behavior that is inconsistent creates mistrust, dissonance, and disengagement.

People are inspired when they believe in what they are doing and feel good about their individual contribution and the contribution of the team. A powerful purpose has an emotional appeal. For example, if we ask the Support Analysts at VeriSign what VeriSign's purpose is, they will quickly respond, "Trust on the Internet." They feel a part of something that they value, it has meaning to them, and they are proud to be a part of it.

It is amazing how many employees do not know their company's purpose. It is also surprising how many companies have a purpose that is in no way compelling. What makes the difference?

A compelling purpose:

  • Is known by all
  • Is bigger than the company itself, not self-referencing
  • Is brief, clear, concise
  • Elicits an emotional response
  • Is a value proposition

Some examples of compelling purposes:

  • Trust on the Internet.—VeriSign
  • Saving lives, one person at a time.—Sanofi
  • We create happiness.—Disney

Two examples of non-compelling purposes:

  • "To create the best video monitor in the industry"—this statement is self-referencing (not bigger than self), limiting, and does not have a strong emotional appeal.
  • "To create wealth for the shareholders" —not much emotional appeal here either.

Equally important is understanding and buy in to the brand promise. The brand promise is reinforced or destroyed at each touch point with those we serve. Everyone must understand and buy-in to the brand promise as that must influence the knowledge workers' judgment in each interaction. Delivering on the brand promise means doing a lot of little things right.  A strong brand emerges when the aggregate of those things reinforce the desired attributes of the relationship. 

What about money? Producing a profit for the company owners or stockholders is a responsibility of the business in a for-profit model.

Profitability is a by-product of being good at delivering on a compelling purpose.

Understanding the Mission

The mission statement is a paragraph that describes what we do, how we do it, and who we do it for. While the mission statement typically does not have the emotional appeal that a compelling purpose has it must align with and support the compelling purpose. The mission statement is mostly about us and the compelling purpose is about the value proposition we create for others.

Aligned to the Values

Our values are the rules of conduct: the guiding principles for our activities and behaviors in achieving the purpose. For example Cisco's values are:

  • Focus intensely on customers,
  • Make innovation happen,
  • Win together,
  • Respect and care for each other, 
  • Always do the right thing.

Living the Brand Promise

When we think about brand we often think about a company name or logo.  A brand promise is different from branding which defines the use of our logo and colors and fonts. A brand promise is the list of attributes that describe our relationship with those we serve (our customers).   A brand promise is often declared by the marketing organization.  In reality our brand promise is what those we serve say about the relationship they have with us.  And, what they say is based on their interactions with us over time.  If we have an intent with respect to what we would like those we serve to say about us, we are more likely to interact in a way that promotes those attributes.

For example the brand promise at Sage North America is: 

  • Peace of mind
  • More control
  • Smart and efficient
  • Be there
  • Enjoyable

Sage developed this list of what they want their customers to say about Sage by talking with their customers. These are the attributes of the relationship Sage customers want in the relationship.

Having a brand promise becomes a valuable touchstone for leadership decisions at all levels of the organization.  It is equally important that knowledge workers understand and believe in the brand promise.  By living the brand promise in each of our interactions both internally and externally we will create the desired image. 


The importance of engagement with the purpose, mission, values and brand promise may seem remote to a knowledge worker responding to requests for assistance. However, as we make the transition to KCS, we will be asking people to change how they do their work and to exercise an increasing amount of judgment in what they do. The degree to which individuals understand the bigger picture not only gives them a basis on which to make good decisions, it encourages participation, gives them a sense of belonging, and enables them to feel good about their contribution and accomplishments. It is the foundation for what motivates us.

Leadership's role is critical in ensuring the elements of the vision exist and that they are well understood by all. Equally important is leadership's integrity with respect to the vision.  Leaders must model the values and live the brand promise.  The fastest way to render the vision impotent and negate all the ripple effect benefits is for leadership to live by different standards than what they espouse and to make decisions that do not align with the vision.   

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