Art and Vision: Detail Makes the Difference Every Time

Bob Conrad Strategy

Last weekend I had an amazing experience. I saw a friend of mine, Sean Collins, who is a professional artist and graphic designer. He is well known in the Houston area for his great work and his ability to paint on the body. Children light up as he transforms their faces into animals and cartoon caricatures. Sean has a unique ability to see the end product before he even wets his paintbrush. I watched him apply the base coat if foundation with no idea on what the outcome would be. Everyone watching would ask “Can you see what this is going to be”? and the answer was always “no”.

As Sean begin to add the outlines and detail, the crowd started to see the big picture. One would say, “Oh my goodness that is Tinkerbell and she is being chased by the Crocodile!” As the detail was added everyone began to see the vision that Sean saw before he even started. We were all aligned with Sean’s vision!

Switching now to organizations, strategy, and vision. Vision is not just for the painter also for the corporate leader. There are rare leaders who can see the end product of a 5-year strategy through their vision along with the main variable that controls the success of this strategy/vision. They are “In The Details”. The vision of an artist and the vision of a CEO are not that different. They want to paint a reality that everyone can be aligned to and say, “Yes we see it, we understand it and we are aligned”.

So why do so many strategies fail? It is all in the detail which can be communicated through 3 channels:

1. What is the goal of the strategy/vision? What is the goal of the strategic initiative and can this goal be clearly articulated so that everyone in the organization understands what we are trying to achieve?

The Goal is the X on our map. It clearly lays out the exact location of where we want to be and why we want to be there. A clearly articulated goal will be unambiguous and operationally defined with a specific metric. Determining the goal is where I start with my clients. I start with the leadership group first to ensure alignment on how the goal is operationally defined and how it will be measured. Then I work through a sample of the organizational hierarchy to see if all levels and stakeholders in the organization understand the goals. You can probably guess what I find? Yes, the goals have not been thoroughly disseminated throughout the organization, which causes confusion amongst leaders other staff members. No wonder we can’t seem to move these strategic initiatives in a positive direction!

2. Feedback? How does the organization receive feedback and how often, so they understand how far they are from goal? Feedback is the mirror for your strategy/vision.

How many of you wake up in the morning get dressed, brush your hair and your teeth and never look in the mirror? I would guess that each of you look in that mirror every morning and multiple times throughout the day. Feedback is required by people to understand how successful they are at meeting their goals and how that relates to the vision. In fact we all need feedback on our appearance multiple times a day.

So why would we ask our employees to work on an organizational strategy without any feedback on how they are doing versus the goal? But many organizations do this every day.

Feedback needs to be relative to the subject and be timely. It is very difficult to adjust behavior when an employee receives feedback on how they are doing when it comes six weeks after the fact, or in some cases three months!

3. Tools and Resources? Do we have all the tools and resources needed to close these gaps? Do we understand what is needed and how we intend to acquire these tools that will help us move towards the goal?

Have you ever been asked to do something very difficult without the tools and resources to complete the job? Most of us have, and this creates major stress on those trying to reach the goal with inadequate processes, tools or equipment. This stress can be so great that eventually we end up like Pavlov’s dog “conditioned reflex” where we basically just give up and quit trying to reach the goal because past experience has taught us that we can’t be successful. When our organizations reach this level of culture, we can have some real problems in trying to reach our goals and manage through healthy change.

I was working with a hospital that just hired a new CEO. The question posed to me was, “Why won’t employees do the right thing? They know what to do they just don’t do it!” My answer back was, “It is too hard for them to do it. They have too many barriers in their way and those barriers need removed.” We began working very simply through the three questions presented in this article and found many employees felt they could not ask for anything such as tools and resources. They had been trained by previous leadership to not ask, to keep their heads down and keep working as is. There was an amazing transformation in their demeanor and energy, once they realized that with the new leadership, they could receive the needed tools and resources to meet their goals! We immediately started seeing the metrics change in the direction of the Goal!

The goal of the Artist and the CEO is to create a compelling picture that everyone can be aligned with. What kills strategy/vision is the inability of all employees to interpret the strategy with a common set of outcomes that drives their everyday behaviors.