Getting people on the same page is time consuming and hard. Whether you’re trying to align your business partners around your 3-year vision or corralling your family into deciding where to go for dinner, the more people you have involved, the more slow and painful the process of alignment can be.
“If you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go together.” – African Proverb
As leaders, business owners, and entrepreneurs, we’re often bias toward action. We have ideas, resources, and often the authority to carry them out. We think we’re right; we’re willing to try something and be wrong, and we don’t want anyone to slow us down. But when we try to go alone, we limit our potential. To achieve your vision, you must learn how to effectively align others around it. And the bigger the vision, the more important this becomes.
I remember when I first learned this concept – I wasn’t a big fan. I listened to “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Steven R. Covey on CD (clearly this was few years ago) on the 5-hour drive back from a business conference in Chicago. Somewhere along the I-88 toll road, Covey got to “Habit 4: Think Win-Win.” I remember pushing back on this concept in my mind. This was a paradigm shift for me. Covey says, “With people, slow is fast and fast is slow.” Much of my career success to this point had come from very independent actions. And as a new leader, I was planning to continue that way. But win-win means “it’s not your way or my way, it’s a better way, a higher way.” Win-win sounded like a lot of work to me. And it is; but I learned it’s worth it.
In 2022 I faced one of the most significant leadership challenges of my career, so far. My primary goal was to align my partners (and then our entire team) around our vision for the next 3 years. In January of 2022 I presented two options to my partners, and we needed to align around one of them – either to continue our two business models under one firm, or to split our 47-year old company into two separate firms. Pretty high stakes.
Trust Speeds up the Process.
If you know our firm, or you’ve read the “About” section of our website you know how things turned out – we aligned around splitting the firm. When most people hear that, they assume we had a knock down drag out, adversarial, divorce-like split. The reality – it was a unanimous decision and a win-win for our partners, our team, and our clients.
It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t fast. I focused on building trust, sharing a vision for the future while honoring the past, and seeking feedback and alternative solutions to get to “win-win.” In this post, I’ll share more details about how I built trust. Be on the look-out for subsequent posts that dive deeper into sharing the vision and seeking “win-win.”
Why start with trust? I believe it was foundational to gaining alignment – without trust, simply sharing the vision for the future and seeking feedback and alternative solutions wouldn’t have really mattered. As I reflect back on how I achieved alignment around our vision, I can clearly see the connection to another book – this one written by Covey’s son, Stephen M. R. Covey – “The Speed of Trust.” There’s a section of the book describing “The 13 Behaviors” for relationship trust. Five of those behaviors standout in my mind as being crucial to our success in 2022. Here’s what my practical application of those five behaviors looked like:
- Talk Straight & Create Transparency – I set aside my people-pleasing tendencies and addressed the elephant in the room. I was honest and up-front about what I thought, even when it was difficult.
- Deliver Results – Credibility comes from results. I reminded my partners of our previous vision and goals and demonstrated my track record for leading us to achieve them.
- Confront Reality – I was confident we were not all aligned on the vision for the future. There was a lot of history and even more feelings and emotions surrounding this topic. I had the courage to bring up the discussion and genuinely valued their input on how to move forward (rather than thinking I already had the answer).
- Listen First – I met with each partner one-on-one and listened to their concerns, ideas, frustrations, etc. I asked what mattered most to them. Then, I shared what I heard back with them and asked them to confirm my understanding.
- Keep Commitments – Throughout the entire process, I said what I was going to do, and then I did it. I consistently kept my commitments. I provided information, scheduled meetings, honored deadlines, etc.
Trust sped up the process. I shared the vision in January 2022, we had a unanimous vote to split in April, finalized negotiations by July, and the effective date of the split was November 1, 2022. Once we aligned around the decision, we were able to move forward with focus and clarity. It was some of the smoothest sailing I’ve encountered, even though it was a huge decision and a significant undertaking. Trust, clarity of vision, and working for “win-win” made all the difference. Be on the lookout for the rest of the series that digs into how we cast the vision and achieved the “win-win” in upcoming blog articles.
Carve out some time today to step out of the whirlwind to clarify your mission and vision using our custom Worksheet!