This story originally appeared on Forbes.com on January 22, 2019.
Vision and values are a great foundation for future growth. But you need passionate, brave people to make them real.
Be bold. Take risks. Fail faster. We hear it all the time. Corporate leaders love audacious missions. Vision dripping with purpose and intent. And at town hall meetings around the world, they dare their employees to join them. To leap like entrepreneurs launching moonshot startups. But not to break established processes, miss quarterly quotas, or stray beyond compliance guardrails as they fly. The vision says, “Jump!” but the day-to-day reality says, “Stay right there.”
Corporations can’t really behave like startups. That would be wildly irresponsible. Startups can take big risks, invest other people’s money, shoot for the moon or the dust. Often they fail, fast, but that’s OK. They don’t have much to lose.
Large, established organizations have a lot to lose, and a huge responsibility — legal, ethical and fiduciary — to manage those risks. Think of it more like a long-married couple reaching back to the magic of their first few dates. Not to give up the depth of their decades together, but to recapture the essence of something forgotten in the grind of building a life together. Spontaneity. Romance. Bravery.
Leaders don’t want their employees to recklessly jettison their hard-earned knowledge, network and experience in search of something new. They’re challenging them to bring back some of that earlier energy, a shared dedication to a bold mission, eagerness to question assumptions and passion for change. Change is now a constant. Courage must be, too.
Leaders are right to want this. In today’s hyperspeed economy, any company not innovating is falling behind. Times of change favor the brave.
As bestselling author Margie Warrell writes, “During times of rapid change and uncertainty, anxiety levels go up and our appetite for risk goes down. Yet these are the exact times when bold action can reap the greatest rewards, and avoiding risk can exact the steepest toll (albeit not in the short term).”
Boldness. Risk-taking. A willingness to make mistakes. These are all critical qualifiers for growth and success. But just like our married couple, it’s not always easy for companies to talk about change. That’s why many leaders ask for startup audacity, for a return to a time when everything was new. But behaving like you’re on a first date again is not going to fix the stagnation for long. What you actually seek is that lost spark of passion — the courage and confidence you felt when you had nothing to lose.
It takes confidence and courage to see opportunities and seize them. To see barriers and break them down. To embrace a bold mission and take risks to make it so. Without recognition and support for confident, courageous action, it’s safer to keep your head down and do your job as you always have.
Confidence and courage live inside every one of your employees, inside every human. These are the true drivers of transformative change — the next engines of growth.
Competition And Compliance Neutralize Confidence And Courage
Two common characteristics of corporate culture kill confidence and courage: intense internal competition and suffocating systems of compliance.
A heightened culture of internal competition leaves employees afraid to risk being wrong. Hypercompetitive companies may reward being right, but they punish mistakes disproportionately. Most employees conclude that it’s safer to let someone else stick their neck out and see if they keep their head.
And in systems that command compliance with policies and procedures, courage is replaced with conformity. If incentives are based on adherence to an already established process, there’s no motive to be courageous.
You can use traditional incentives to move your people to do what they’re told. But not to be confident and courageous. Not to step forward with innovative ideas. Not to lead their colleagues in a mission of transformation. Not to follow others who pioneer new pathways.
The Missions Within The Mission
There is a way to bring confidence and courage back. The answer can be found in the missions within the mission.
Frontline workers and middle managers aren’t CEOs or founders — not yet, at least. Their insights and inputs are valuable, but they don’t set the company mission. They don’t have the authority to change it. They don’t make the big decisions of implementing it.
But in a vibrant, mission-driven organization, each team, each employee can adopt a personal mission within the mission. They’re like the (possibly apocryphal) janitor at NASA. He allegedly told President John F. Kennedy that by keeping the offices clean, he was helping to send a man to the moon.
In a corporate culture of confidence and courage, teams and employees know their own mission and how it supports the organization’s mission. They see a clear path for their contributions. They feel the impact of their work. And they know that within their mission, they have autonomy, agency and ownership.
Empowered within their mission, they have confidence in the company and confidence in themselves. Confidence that their perspectives have merit. That their contributions are valuable and serve the overall mission. Confidence that the company won’t punish them and might even reward them for speaking up, for questioning, for trying something new.
And in that confidence, they find the courage to take smart risks. To question a manager. To offer a better idea. To be the first to try something new. To lead their colleagues toward transformation.
Courage and confidence are rocket fuel for every new initiative, no matter how big and legacy-laden the company. Give each team and employee a clear mission within the mission. Affirm the value of their contributions. Give them the authority to take smart risks. Nurture and celebrate their bravery, not their buttoned-up compliance.
Want to unlock the potential in your employees to join you in a bold mission of transformative change? Give them their mission, and foster a culture of confidence and courage.
Originally published at www.forbes.com on January 22, 2019.