Caring about your vision Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2009

One of the biggest challenges that Dr. Helene Gayle faces as president and CEO of CARE USA is trying to balance decentralization with integration.

As a 12,000-person organization that fights poverty in 66 countries, she faces the unique task of trying to unite everyone through common goals while also allowing for the flexibility that’s required to adapt to the local needs in each of those countries.

In order to accomplish this, she says you have to first come up with a shared vision across your entire organization.

“By working to develop a shared vision, you have something that pulls your organization together,” Gayle says.

Then you have to use that vision to drive the work, but involve people in the process so it allows for flexibility in executing the vision.

Smart Business spoke with Gayle about how to both create a shared vision and how to carry it throughout your business.

See everything. One of the things that you have as a leader of an organization is you’re the one person, generally, who has the whole organizational overview. So people come with ideas based on where they sit and their particular perspective. As a leader, you have to be an integrator and be able to take all of that and be the person who both understands the external environment, understands the internal, and can look across the whole organization and integrate that.

It takes judgment and the ability to analyze and think about what’s the best course forward. I rely a lot on my senior management team. It’s also important that other leaders in the organization play a role in helping to define the vision and direction forward.

Involve people. It can’t be my vision. It can’t be a top-down vision. It has to be a vision that really embraces the things we do as an organization and pulls a diverse group of stakeholders together to work on building that. It has to be a vision that reflects the realities of our work, so having it be an iterative process that both looks at where are we today in the globe, what are the key challenges, what’s the external environment in which we work, but also what are the local drivers that define our work? It’s this iterative process of looking at the external or global environment but also at the same time have the pieces bubble up that reflect the challenges on the ground.

Get enough of a cross section of viewpoints to bring to the table that it does reflect the different realities that we work in. You can’t have everyone at the table, so you try to figure out a mix of people at different levels in the organization who can make contributions to that and also have external stakeholders who are critical in having you define the external terrain in which you work. ... External stakeholders give you an idea of what your opportunities and challenges are. The internal stakeholders are better at helping you define how you address those. You use them for different reasons and different aspects.

Be open. Everyone talks about management by walking around. Be open and know your organization and have your ears to the ground so you’re aware of who are key leaders and stakeholders in your organization. It’s having people see you as a listener and as open to viewpoints. If you don’t, clearly people aren’t going to speak openly, and they’re not going to really engage in a process with true candor. And what you want is to have open and candid discussions that make sure that you’re really incorporating different viewpoints.

Part of it is the posture which one takes — a listening posture, an open posture, a willingness to engage different perspectives. It’s being able to show in the way you behave that you are willing to listen to different viewpoints. ... Do you create an atmosphere or environment where people feel free to express differences of opinion and not feel like they will have repercussions for disagreeing or having different viewpoints? Don’t always respond immediately and debate, but allow people to present their viewpoint. It’s in the attitude and the way you encourage people. It’s not putting people down for expressing different viewpoints.

Have a plan. One of the things that happens so often is you may come up with a good direction but not come up with a tangible plan to move in that direction. You’ve got to have something that’s tangible and concrete so that a vision becomes a reality and doesn’t just stay in a theoretical framework. Once you come up with a direction that you want to take an organization in, communicate that, spend a lot of time making sure people understand it and have the opportunity to discuss it, and then be very consistent in how you move your organization forward to align with that vision.

Are you organizationally structured in a way that supports the vision? Do you have incentives within your organization that move people in that direction? Do your next level and next level down managers embrace this? And are they consistent about moving the organization in the same direction? Look at how you align your organization accordingly, and are there both the incentives to move in the direction the organization has chosen to move in and disincentives for not doing that.

That’s why you have performance appraisals and other ways of looking at performance. If you want people to start working more in a team-oriented approach, then as part of people’s performance, you measure how many projects were accomplished as a team as opposed to an individual behavior. Eventually, you’ll drive people more to a team approach. There are ways to have incentives and disincentives, and some of that may be through education and providing information, but it can also be how do you provide the right incentives to adapt to change behavior in ways that you think will strengthen your mission.