Three reasons your vision is just a concept (and why you need a Brand Cue Card to turn it into action)

I frequently hear from exasperated leaders who are struggling with a big hurdle: “I can’t get anywhere with our vision. Nobody is committed to it, nothing is changing, and I can’t figure out why.” 

The vision’s on the wall, but no one is implementing it.

More than a pep talk

It’s tempting to take your carefully crafted vision, “launch” it and expect everything (and everybody) to rally around executing that vision.

It just doesn’t work that way.

Taking a vision from concept to reality requires three full ingredients to gain traction, not one “script” launch.

  • profess

  • practice

  • promote

(And, in the data I’ve gathered over the past five years from 500 people across 100 organizations, vision derails before most people ever make it past the first ingredient. )

While everyone may agree to the idea of a vision, heartfelt inspiration is completely disconnected from staff culture and daily decisions.

People don’t know how to translate inspiring words into action (and the “wins” are ambiguous), so they fall back on old habits. 

How to get back on track

It’s critical to get all your teams working toward the vision. To stay calibrated, all players need access to an at-a-glance cheat sheet with the mission, vision, values, strategy, and audience in one, usable, working document.

This working document is called a Brand Cue Card and it continuously directs all player behavior, across multiple departments or locations, toward a shared goal. 

It’s only one page, written in plain language. Leave out the theological and corporate jargon; all you need are a few basics to centralize the win and execute a coordinated effort to see a vision come to life.  

Here are three reasons you need a Brand Cue Card to help your whole organization start implementing a shared vision.

1. People don’t follow a vision that’s forced on them.

Most likely, you’re dealing with people who may be comfortable with a vision in concept but are threatened by the change that messes with their personal history and daily reality. In other words, “change is good as long as it doesn’t mess with my way of doing things.” Sound familiar? 

People believe they have a good thing going. And, that’s where they’ll stay until they have a picture of why their “individual” good thing isn’t necessarily good for the “whole” (and might even be hurtful for the audience you serve).

When we’re able to draw a picture of the consequences of staying in our own personal comfort zones, we start to grow empathy for others who see things differently.

Future proof your mission and vision around a strategy everyone owns, not just the leader or the preacher. 

A Brand Cue Card answers the question:
What is the most important thing about what we do? 

Pro Tip: Diffuse turf-guarding tension by directing people’s focus to the part of the vision that highlights a shared point of pride for the old and new guard alike. 

For example, every generation and personality can find common ground around foundational expressions of hospitable environments, good neighbors, healthy families, community wellness, real-life application, etc.

It’s the only way to shift from a combative, “who-gets-what” narrative to “let’s do this!” (For more insight: Three questions to help you become a “Yes, and” leader.)

2. People aren’t loyal to words and graphics.

I see many leaders who believe that great copy and visual design will inspire their teams to deliver on the vision. The problem is, talk is cheap. And, vision is more than design. 

People need to know how this vision translates into values for everyday behavior. And, they need it in front of them on the regular to grow into new habits. Promotional assets support a vision, they don’t drive it.

Unleash an army of advocates across the whole organization, not just one art director or creative department. 

A Brand Cue Card answers the question:
How does the work I’m doing impact everyone else? 

Pro Tip: Ask each department to identify activity that doesn’t directly support a core value. And, then: 

    1. Create safe spaces for open conversations to talk through tough decisions and trade-offs. (Keep in mind this is sentimental territory.)

    2. Empower employees to suggest other ways of getting things done. (Don’t expect them to maintain legacy tasks and new vision tasks at the same time.)

    3. Help guide them through incremental transition stages as you pick one value a month. For example, move older, weekly programs to a monthly and quarterly emphasis for a season to make room for new incentives.

3. People lose sight of the big picture.

When we’re under pressure and deep in the woods, we lose sight of our north star and start focusing on individual “trees.” When this happens, our actions no longer point towards a shared destination--but to personal project outcomes.

Leaders, especially, fall into old behaviors and lean towards personal preferences and top-down authority that contradicts the vision. Sometimes this happens knowingly (we’re tired and the end justifies the means) and sometimes not (we all have blind spots). 

Reveal what parts of your vision are actually engaging your audience and what isn’t. 

A Brand Cue Card helps you “check your math” and answers the question:
How are people using what we have to offer?  

Pro Tip: Immunize your stakeholders from recurring blind spots and over-hype by setting up listening posts and inviting feedback about how things are working. 

When we actively look for value contradictions and ask others to keep us honest about experience incongruences, we spend less time chasing busy work and more time finishing the right work to meet organizational goals. 

This empathy exercise helps stakeholders start to look at the organization through the public eyes, instead of seeing the public through their organization’s eyes. This translates to more self-policing and problem-solving collaboration and less turf-guarding silos.  

If you don’t want things to go back to old habits and status quo after the big “vision” series, use a Brand Cue Card to reiterate that vision in daily practice and keep your team’s attention and actions on the main thing (not “my” thing or “their” thing.) It’s a 3-way proven tool that works as an organizational compass, an individual accountability filter, and an audience usability check. 

Ready to build your own Brand Cue Card? Here’s a template.