How to create collaboration around a shared vision

Jim Geiger; Founder, Chairman, President and CEO; Cbeyond

Throughout all of the elements of leadership that I’ve learned, having a shared vision underscores them all. Without it, you won’t achieve the others.

Let me start by sharing a favorite “aha” moment. A few years ago, I was speaking on a panel at a conference and this question was posed, “How do you hire your leadership team?” Another panelist responded, “I hire my senior leadership members like I buy shoes for my kids, two sizes too big.” I quickly quipped, “Well, then I buy a size 12 for my kids.” It was a great analogy. And it makes a great point. When looking at the team you are building, it has to start with finding players who can embrace your organization’s vision and, as importantly, values and who have the capacity to grow with you and drive you and the organization to a better place.

It is not enough to declare a goal and demand results. You have to cultivate vision and purpose so your teams are moving in the same direction and are inspired to stretch in order to deliver results that go beyond expectations. Results are only one element. If you want to build relationships, listen effectively and create a place of integrity — it’s critical to have a shared vision for success. (And by the way, this is owned by every leader in the company — not just the CEO.)

Declare the dream. If I am going to inspire you to join in my cause, I have to be committed enough to say it publically, say it often and measure against it. Each year at Cbeyond, we unite our teams around a theme that maps to our strategic imperatives. We call it the “Year Of … .” This simple “rallying cry” supported by an ongoing communication of outcomes on metrics that we measure against provide our employees a link to what’s important and how we are doing. It is a powerful way to align our efforts, unite the organization and achieve results together. The “Year Of” theme introduces a shared vulnerability into the organization where we are all committed to a shared vision and shared opportunity — from the CEO down to each individual contributor.

Match incentives to foster collaboration. At Cbeyond, every corporate employee gets a bonus, and we all share the same bonus goals. It’s our way of ensuring that our incentives align with our focus, drive the behavior we want and create an environment that prizes collaboration. We’re in it together and it impacts our compensation. Period. Consider this: Our vision is to be a champion for small business and to deliver an experience that has them stay longer, buy more and refer others to us. To insure that happens, 20 percent of our bonuses are based on how our customers rank their satisfaction with Cbeyond. We turned our vision into a commitment and we aligned our culture, our focus and our compensation. As a result, how we serve our customers permeates conversations every day and in every department. It doesn’t happen in every company and it isn’t an accident that it happens at Cbeyond — our goal is “customer intimacy.”

Paint the picture, tell the story. Context is critical to leadership. “This is where I am taking you and why — and what it will look like when we arrive.” Putting it in every day terms and talking about it in a way that can be understood is key to gaining commitment. I’ve learned through the years to slow down, include others in my thought process and share the experiences that are driving my “moment of clarity” and informing my decision-making. Whether you are talking privately, with your team or with an audience of hundreds, consider the power of framing your point in a story. Telling stories can be an impactful way to create a clear, compelling vision.

You won’t do your team or yourself any favors if your “shared vision” changes every week. Know your outcomes, measure your results and analyze your gaps. Achievement certainly isn’t a given. The power is in quickly organizing around your opportunities to move into a positive trajectory and then rallying all hands to get there as a team. The value of having and communicating a shared vision is that your teams will begin to recognize gaps as fast as you and come to the table eager and ready to be a part of the solution.

Jim Geiger is the founder, chairman, president and CEO of Cbeyond, a company that provides IT and communications services to small businesses throughout the United States and also provided the world’s first 100 percent VoIP local phone network. Learn more at