Step by step Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2009

Before Kip Wright began outlining his vision, he needed a base of values to stand on.

“We spent a lot of time creating a set of, not only a vision, which clearly articulates what we want to be, what we are and what we are aiming to become, [but] we felt it was very important to pair with that a set of value statements,” Wright says. “What’s important to you from a value standpoint? What’s important to the company?”

Wright, president of TAPFIN Process Solutions, recently walked his staff of 200 at the human capital solutions provider through the process of creating a vision. He says that when molding your vision, understanding your values is one key ingredient. Another key is employee participation. But the vision isn’t complete until it’s clearly communicated to every employee.

Smart Business spoke with Wright about how to develop a vision and then communicate it to your employees.

Involve employees in the process. First of all, it can’t be done in isolation. If you really want a vision that sticks, you’ve got to enlist your employees into part of that process.

When we went through the process of renaming ourselves, for example, we actually opened that up to our employees. We didn’t go out and formally engage in a marketing firm to come back and say, ‘Here’s the three names you ought to look at.’

We let our employees provide suggestions. Then we let them vote on the top 10, and we went through a dialogue of discussing the pros and cons of each of those. It’s important to do that.

When we got down to a set of names, and there were several hundred that we went through, we started to bring that down to a group of senior leadership.

At some point, it becomes inefficient to continue to involve everyone, so you have to start to get some representation for the employee base. That was what we felt our leadership was.

The naming process is probably less relevant than the fact that we do tend to look at our leaders and our directors and that management group and above as representatives for our employee population and ask them to make sure that they’re keeping both our customers’ and our employees’ best interests in mind when we make decisions that affect the company.

Create a list of values. Secondly, it’s important to understand those values.

A lot of that depends on, No. 1, the leader, the senior management of the organization. What do they want to stand for? What do they want to build?

Obviously, your shareholders are a big piece of that because they’re providing you their views in terms of what they want the company to be, what they want to stand for.

It really starts with the core belief in terms of senior leadership. Ours were, in many respects, pulled from a lot of beliefs we had always talked about in groups and in meetings. What do we think that’s really different about us? Why do you think it’s so great to work for TAPFIN? Why do you think our customers love us?

You start to ask those questions, and you start to realize there are themes that start to emerge.

All of those things are important inputs in creating your vision, because if you don’t have those as your foundation, your vision statement can’t reflect that.

Pull the pieces together. Then, you lastly look at, OK, now with these two things, participation and a core set of values, what is our business?

What are we trying to achieve? What is our product, and how does our product drive value to our customers? How does our product drive value back to our shareholders? How does our product benefit the employees?

If you take all of those things into mind when you create that, your ending product becomes something that works, that lives, that breathes, that means something. It’s not just arbitrary words that were pulled out at random.

Take the vision to your employees. The way we’ve done that in terms of communicating it is, one, consistently and continuously. We look for ways to constantly reinforce that.

We have these little 3-by-5 folded laminate cards that we have given out to our employees and asked them to carry it in their wallets. On one side of it has the vision statement, and on the other, it has the values.

When I’m out there with our employees, I ask them, ‘Let me see your card.’ When I’m in front of customers, I pull it out and show it to them and let them know that that’s important to us.

Make sure employees absorb your communication about vision. You can’t be an effective manager sitting behind a desk on a phone, sending out e-mails.

I get out there. I’ll hit an office. I’ll hit a series of cities and try to make sure I’m getting in front of the customer, trying to make sure I’m spending some time with my team members.

Then you ask them, ‘What do you think? How are things going for you? Do you get the vision? Does it make sense to you? Does it resonate?’ Those are the ways that you make sure it’s happening.

We’re not perfect in any or all of these things; this is an evolutionary process. The biggest challenge of leadership is developing and growing yourself, standing and living for what you preach, and it’s a constant focus.

How to reach: TAPFIN Process Solutions, (713) 386-1400 or www.tapfin.com