“Healthy Organization” Foundation #3: Clarity of Purpose.
There’s an old saying that most of us spend more time planning our vacations than we spend planning our lives. That’s frequently true in business despite the ever-present pressure to perform. Unless you are a solo entrepreneur, all companies owe it to their constituents (owners, employees, and even customers) to set a direction that maximizes ROI (time, energy, $) and then paddle as hard as you can to get where you want to go!
A management and leadership team I’ve worked with has spent a fair amount of time and energy this year working through some common, but thorny, issues for their business: What is our vision? How are we working as a team? Where do we want to be in five years? What does all this mean to me? And, in a dynamic marketplace with some unique, structural challenges this year, what are our goals for the coming year?
These are not easy questions! It’s always comforting to just let yourself sink into the ocean of daily demands and ignore these important, but not urgent, challenges of all managers and leaders. In our case, the management team kept at it and the hard work paid off! A “common goal” was developed. The team committed to it. Action plans with What-Who-When clarity were set to paper. Let the paddling to the distant shore begin!
My consulting work done, I moved on to other assignments. Sometime later (but not an eon!), I had an opportunity to chat with the company president about how the team was doing. The team was doing OK, from a team behavior standpoint so I asked, in passing, how were they doing paddling toward their goal. Unfortunately, the “commitment” to the common goal appeared to have weakened considerably. As a commercial enterprise, they were still doing many good things and having successes both internally and externally but the real forward progress had been replaced by taking care of daily tasks and drifting with the stream. Unfortunately, even the open communication and positive behaviors that are the hallmark of a truly effective team had begun to unravel.
The moral of the story? Achieving true clarity of purpose, in this case defined by concrete, committed goals, can, and should, be a primary concern of all management teams. It’s important to recognize that once the hard, creative work is done you must keep the conversation alive by constantly asking, “How are we doing against our goal(s)?” Or, you can let the stream determine your destination and how much fun you have on the journey.