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Communicating Vision From Leadership to the Front Lines

5 min read
Updated Aug. 16, 2021
Published Mar. 17, 2020

This is part 1 of a 2-part series on culture by Derek Grant, SVP of Commercial Sales at Salesloft (read part 2 here). Derek leads Salesloft’s commercial sales organization, which has delivered “hockey stick” growth by helping over 1,500 companies source more qualified meetings and pipeline.

Have you ever witnessed a culture where the vision was poorly communicated or constantly shifting? In that environment, you feel unsettled. You wonder if the thing you’re working on today will even matter tomorrow. 

Then it happens: Lucy moves the football. And like Charlie Brown, you’re on your back. Again.

While business today can be fast-paced and ever-changing, companies don’t have to shift with the winds. The best leaders balance reacting to market pressures with preserving vision. Leaders who drive results communicate vision in ways that propel an organization forward, but that’s no easy feat. Let’s talk about why.

The Perils of a Poorly Communicated Vision

Why is sharing a vision so challenging? Let me count the ways.

1. It’s hard to distill a vision and make it concise. 

Many companies have a fractured focus. They’re trying to do too many different things. Instead of communicating vision as one clear singular idea, they’re talking about 10 things. And when you ask your employees to focus on 10 things, you author chaos. 

One of my favorite books is Drive by Daniel Pink. A strong sales concept he discusses is focusing on just a few KPIs. Because if everything is important, nothing is important. Keep it simple when it comes to goal setting. Specificity is what matters.  

2. It’s impossible to make an aspiration actionable or measurable.

Many visions are purely aspirational. And while aspirations move us in the moment, without a tactical way to realize the dream, even the smartest employees get stuck. For vision to resonate with anyone, there needs to be action-oriented plans tied to measurable results. No doubt you’ve heard of SMART goals. Vision statements need a SMART makeover, too. 

“If the vision isn’t something that people can apply actions to, it’s nothing more than aspiration.” Derek Grant, SVP of Commercial Sales at Salesloft 

3. It’s hard to rally people around a vision in times of prosperity.

Winston Churchill functioned best as a wartime leader. Startup founders are often the same and communicate vision best during crises or times of scarcity. In the beginning, these leaders serve  as enigmatic prophets who rally teams to move mountains.

But if your organization has moved past the scrappy startup phase, times have changed. People have gotten comfortable and lost urgency and there’s no way around that. So, in times of prosperity, you need different kinds of leaders to communicate a different kind of vision as you find product market fit.

4. It’s a challenge to craft a vision that embraces every arm of an organization.

When companies place all their focus one one function, what does that mean for the other departments? That kind of vision leads to dissatisfaction and disconnection with those who aren’t included. When swaths of people feel marginalized, they won’t pull together on a plan that doesn’t resonate with them. Let’s talk about how to avoid that scenario.

Have One Vision With Many Applications

Part of communicating a vision well is keeping it simple but making it work for everyone. When I worked at Pardot, the product vision was no-hassle marketing automation. But that meant something different to each department in the company. Everyone had a variant that made sense for them. 

For marketing and sales, we sold Pardot as being easy to use. Simple yet sophisticated. On the development side, instead of building a product that accommodated every edge case, we built something for the masses. And when we had a support problem, we’d look at how the technology could be improved to make common tasks easier to accomplish. 

In other words, the brand promise needs to span the entire company. It needs to be something that each person can make their own and rally behind, regardless of their function.

Similarly, I love the vision — and big hairy audacious goal — set forth by Salesloft: to be loved by the buyers we serve.

This idea of the sales person being appreciated by the person they’re selling to defies all sales stereotypes. Most people associate selling with visions of shady used car salesmen. So, when we think about salespeople, we put up this natural perimeter.

But the reality is, if we at Salesloft want to be loved by the buyers we serve, we need to treat them right. We need to be empathetic, pleasantly persistent, and we need to add value. And those concepts span all arms of the organization, not just sales and marketing. 

Product needs to build rock-solid components and support them vigorously. Customer Success needs to ensure buyers are getting the most out of the platform. Our finance people need to strike the right balance between politeness and persistence when collecting payment. Everyone needs to build the brand that’s loved by the buyers we serve.

Visions like these are actionable for the entire organization. But beyond communication, how can leaders live the vision? We’ll talk about that in our next post.