3 Phases to Developing your Aspirations

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This is a part of a series that was created to help you define what you aspire to be as a company. This series will walk through the process, necessary roles, in addition to guides for each role to define your aspirations quickly.

As with all practices, there are many approaches for expressing this practice into your organization. We recommend a three-phase process:

  1. Identify Your Aspirations, where the CEO and senior management team discuss and debate possible aspirations and identify the right set for your company;
  2. Express Your Aspirations, where the CEO and senior management team communicate the aspirations into the organization; and
  3. Live and Reinforce Your Aspirations, where all of the people in the organization are asked to live the aspirations, and the use of aspirations is measured and reinforced on a quarterly basis.

Each of these phases is discussed in the next several posts.

1. Identify Your Aspirations

A one-day, off-site meeting is the ideal place to develop your company aspirations. The goal for this meeting is to create your mission, vision, values, and priorities statements. All of the company’s senior leaders must be present.

This meeting will be most effective if there is an outside facilitator (someone who is familiar with the topic and is not part of the senior management team); however, many teams have created successful aspirations without the use of a facilitator.


2. Express Your Aspirations

Once you are comfortable that you have created the right set of company aspirations, it’s time to communicate them to the entire organization. Companies have different norms for internal communication, but some of the approaches that we have seen include:

  • Presentation by the CEO at a quarterly employee meeting
  • E-mail from the CEO to the staff
  • Posters, lucites, mouse pads, and other items that are publicly displayed
  • Staff meeting presentations from each of the senior managers
  • Posting the aspirations on the company Intranet
  • Posting the aspirations on the company website and/or in recruiting or corporate communications material
  • Presentation by the CEO to the company’s board of directors.

Your communication will not be complete without communicating to each person in three or more different ways. You cannot over-communicate aspirations, but you can easily under-communicate them, so spend the time to over-communicate!

3. Live and Reinforce Your Aspirations

If you have identified and expressed your aspirations, you’re off to a good start. However, at this point, your aspirations are just words on a page. If you don’t live and reinforce your aspirations, they will never move beyond words to become second nature to your staff.

You have several hurdles to overcome during this phase:

  • Most employees won’t remember your aspirations even after you communicate them three or more times, perhaps more!
  • Many employees won’t really understand what your aspirations mean in general
  • Many employees won’t know how their work relates to your aspirations and probably won’t raise their hands and ask questions
  • Everyone is busy and unless the senior management constantly puts aspirations onto the table and into the conversation, everyone will revert back to their day-to-day work.

Some vehicles for reinforcing aspirations include:

  • Have some smaller team dinners to discuss your aspirations, what they mean, and how each person can live them
  • While you are making decisions, bring up the aspirations as the criteria for making the decision (e.g., when making a decision to work on a particular initiative or hire a particular person)
  • Communicate that you are taking certain actions because they are aligned with your aspirations
  • Communicate that you are not doing something because it is not aligned with your aspirations
  • Give ongoing feedback by praising people who do things that align with your aspirations; conversely, give helpful feedback on different ways of doing things to people who take actions that conflict with your aspirations
  • Reinforce all or part of your aspirations at your regular staff meetings
  • Discuss how well the group is living the aspirations at your retrospective meetings
  • Publicly give praise or a reward to someone who is particularly good at living your aspirations.

As you move forward, it will be helpful to have objective measures in place to show how well your company is living the aspirations, and to uncover any areas where you need to make adjustments to your reinforcement activities. Some ideas for objective measures include:

  • Periodically ask your staff to write down the aspirations during company meetings. The first few times, ask them to self-assess their ability to recall the aspirations. Then, have them submit their work so you can look for opportunities to improve.
  • Set up a “hall test” — periodically ask people in the hall how they describe your aspirations with people outside of the company. Again, this should reveal some opportunities to improve.
  • Send a simple electronic survey to your staff every six months or so. This is a particularly good tool to understand how your employees perceive your aspirations. Send out the first survey after you first communicate your aspirations in order to get a benchmark for later surveys. Ask your employees:
    • How well they understand your aspirations
    • How well they are currently living each of the aspirations
    • How well others in the organization are currently living each of the aspirations
    • For their recommendations on ways to improve

Living and reinforcing your aspirations is a phase that goes on endlessly, so be prepared to commit to your aspirations for the long haul.

Next week, I’ll discuss the roles for the practice.