Vision quest

In order to set a vision, Mike Porter has to understand the business and the people he is leading.

“Not only from a historical perspective and what they’ve gone through but also where is this business trying to go and where’s the company trying to go,” says Porter, who oversees more than 500 employees as a regional general manager of Microsoft Corp.’s central region. “Then, you have to take into account the culture, the people — the appetite for change if you will.”

Smart Business spoke with Porter about how to create a vision and get buy-in for it.

Q. What’s the most important step in business?

Being able to set that vision, I’ve found, is the most important thing. It allows you to, stealing a (Steven) Covey term, ‘begin with the end in mind.’ Then you have to have that courage, conviction, that confidence piece. … In my experience, that’s what allows you to put that vision, that stake in the ground out there because visions aren’t necessarily contracts that say you are assured that all are going to come true.

So you have to have some darn confidence as a leader in what you are doing so you can set the vision and get all the people, the entire organization to go with you in that direction. Because you are really only as good as your people and their ability to understand what you are trying to do. That’s a tough, tough set of different things to go through as a leader in this day and age given the disbursement of people and how many different moving parts there are.

Q. How do you get people to buy in to the vision?

Researching, getting insights, testing ideas, sharing my theories, and openly and honestly asking for feedback. Let’s say it’s a turnaround, versus a sustained success type of business. The difference is in a turnaround, I’m probably going to take a move to start making those changes much quicker than if it is a sustained success. In a sustained success, I’m going to spend a little more time getting more and more people’s input and sharing out my ideas and pieces ahead of time before formally saying this is a vision. Because in a sustained success, I’m going to make sure that by the time I set the vision most people can regurgitate it, if you will, as it comes out. They’re already in. They feel like they are part of it.

In a turnaround, I just need the top performers to confirm what I think I see because the appetite for change is usually so high in a turnaround anyway, that the key is getting the communication, the vision out there quickly because people want to follow something. If it’s a turnaround, they typically feel like they’ve been following a dead end if you will.