One of the most interesting aspects of my work is to help a company find a fresh vision, something which helps it stand out from the crowd and inspires its employees to achieve greater things. However, arriving at the wording is the easy bit – it’s keeping it alive within the business that’s the greater challenge!

A useful way to think of your vision (and keep it in rude health) is to use the metaphor of a bus journey. Let me introduce the main characters:

  • The bus – the business
  • The destination – the Vision
  • The driver – CEO/MD
  • The passengers – employees (‘active’ passengers)

Before you start…

  • The leader has to be respected, seen as a credible person to take the wheel.
  • The bus has to feel like a safe, robust vehicle (so people feel confident to climb aboard).
  • Enough fuel to get you on your way.
  • The destination has to be sufficiently appealing that the passengers willingly embark on the journey.
  • The leader has to know the route, with the proviso that the occasional detour might be necessary.

Then it’s handbrake off and you’re on your way!

The journey begins and sure enough things don’t quite go to plan – wrong turns, delays, bumps in the road, others obstructing your path.

You may discover along the way that the vehicle doesn’t perform too well, it stutters and labours. Maybe there’s an oil leak. Perhaps there’s someone working against you? Some passengers may disembark early (they decide to get off or the driver may insist they go!).

From time to time you have to stop the bus and make repairs, inflate tyres, top up the oil. Although you set off with a full tank of fuel, it needs re-filling and occasionally the bus needs extra help to climb up steep slopes.

The role of the Passengers – passive or active?

One of the challenging elements of our metaphor is the role of the passengers. After all, don’t passengers just sit there and enjoy the ride? We like to think that leaders can’t make things happen without their employees but exactly how do the passengers on our metaphorical bus contribute to the journey? I suggest in two ways:

First, when you hit setbacks on the journey you need the passengers to rally around – maybe get out and push, fix the engine (“Is there a doctor on board?”), change a tyre or suggest a way to avoid the traffic.

But what about the rest of the journey when there’s no crisis to focus the attention? What’s the role of the passengers then?

Remember the Pixar movie Monsters Inc? The city of Monstropolis in the monster world is powered by the screams of human children, thanks to characters like Mike and Scully (below) who are skilled in the art of frightening kids. (The problem faced by the monsters is that it’s getting harder to scare children in the modern world and energy production is failing!).

Perhaps our passengers (employees) are responsible for energy production too; not by scaring people but by creating value for others through their labour. Every time a passenger helps solve a problem (or somehow makes the world a better place) a little energy is produced which, when harvested, drives the bus forward.

Look after your passengers, and they’ll look after you

The journey should be a fulfilling experience for all, occasionally challenging but something which benefits the participants. It may be a long and arduous path and it’s important to stay in good shape. The occasional sing-song helps to keep people in good spirits. From time to time you may have to give the driver a rest and perhaps step in for a while!

It’s about the journey itself

So, what happens on the journey? There’s excitement that you don’t really know what lies ahead, but you’re moving forward. You learn things along the way, through experiences which are many and varied. You meet new people as you stop off at various places en route. You get to know the other passengers and build up trust. You grow in confidence and accept the new challenges that come along the journey. You look back at the end and see how you’ve changed.

By using a metaphor like this I believe you can transform your Company Vision into a compelling story which does indeed light up your employees, not just once a year at the annual retreat, but every single day.