Apr 18 - May 8Phase 1May 8 - 27May 28 - Jun 5Jun 7 - Jul 1Phase 2Jul 2 - 14Jul 17 - Aug 14Phase 3Aug 15 - Sep 16
If you were to ask 10 people at random on your team or in your department, would they be able to tell you what your company's strategic goals are? Or, how your team or department helps to achieve those company goals? Could they explain to you how the work that they personally do helps accomplish the company’s strategy?
This doesn’t have to be a hypothetical question - try it! If the answer to any of these questions is “No”, there is a possibility that people in your organization are doing work that isn’t aligned to the strategy of your business or that projects are underway that aren’t connected to the purpose you are trying to achieve.
Anybody in an organization should be able to question whether their work is actively helping advance the company strategy. If it is, understanding that connection can help make individuals more effective. If it isn’t, then that work should stop.
Any of the following problems could be symptoms of a workforce that hasn’t internalized the company’s strategy or made the connection between their work and the broader purpose of the organization.
Employees are disengaged, potentially causing “presenteeism” (being physically at work but not productive) and absenteeism
Attrition is high and current employees are actively seeking new opportunities
Employees potential is not fully tapped or aligned with the organization. Would you do your best work if you didn’t understand how it contributed to the core purpose?
Trust is lacking due to poor communication and transparency
Individuals in your business are doing work that isn’t aligned with your company’s goals, or that actually contradicts them.
Projects that don’t advance the company’s strategy are being done in your company right now.
How does this happen? Causes of this problem can include:
The corporate strategy isn’t well articulated, understood, or communicated
The departmental or unit goals are not well defined, not connected to the corporate strategy, or not well communicated and understood
- Leaders (not strictly people managers) don’t explicitly help individuals and teams make the connection between their work and the bigger picture
Fortunately, there are many practical ways that individuals can start to tackle this problem. At a company level, HR departments can create communication programs that spread the company’s strategy and goals, helping individuals buy-in and internalize the core purpose behind the organization. Ideally, employees would even be invited to help formulate the strategy (read about how Red Hat created its strategy by inviting input from the entire company). If the company’s strategy and goals are not well articulated at a corporate level, then that is the first place to start.
But you don’t have to wait for the corporate wheels to start turning - and chances are you aren’t in a position to institute a major communication effort on behalf of your company. Anybody who is a leader or influencer (and anybody can be a leader! whether a people manager, a team lead, or an individual contributor), can start to have an impact immediately.
Understand the company strategy - more than just the corporate speak, you need to really understand what the strategy is, why it was formulated, and how it will help the company succeed. You can’t help others understand if you don’t understand yourself.
How does your team goals/strategy align with corporate strategy? Make the connections (write it down!) on how your team helps the bigger picture. It might be a couple layers down. i.e. I have team inside Red Hat’s global support organization. First, I map the support organization’s strategy to the corporate strategy, then I map my unit’s strategy to the support org’s strategy, then I map my team’s strategy to the unit strategy. All this mapping goes on while my team’s goals are coming together - and I invite the team to participate.
Create a communication strategy for your team on connecting their daily work to the bigger picture. I say “communication strategy” because just mentioning off-hand or sending an email probably won’t be enough. There are lots of models available on how to effectively communicate or how to affect change. The most important thing is to talk about this often (you can’t talk about it too much!)
Talk to everyone on your team on a regular (at least weekly) basis. Ideally, set up a standing 30-60 minute 1:1 conversation. What are they working on? Why? How do they feel about it? Can they explain how their work is helping to accomplish the company goals? What about their personal goals and ambitions? Can you guide them through that connection?
Foster opportunities for the team to engage in open discussion about their work and its purpose - a weekly team meeting for example. Or, if that isn’t practical, a web discussion area or mailing list. These are great opportunities to highlight achievements that are helping the team reach its goals, and in turn to reiterate the connection between those goals and the corporate strategy.
Incorporate two questions into team and 1:1 discussions: What problem are you trying to solve? Or, What opportunity are you trying to maximise? These questions force people to think about the purpose of their actions. In the fast paced, pauseless, activity-driven environment that many of us work in, its all too common for people to do things for the sake of doing them. Asking simple questions like these helps people pause and reflect on the purpose of their work.
If your manager doesn’t start the conversation with you - you can start it with them. You don’t have to wait - you can start driving the team to be more purpose driven no matter what your role.
This hack is extremely practical. In essence, it consists of two things: understand the purpose of your team (whether you are a people manager or not), department, company; help others make the connection between their work and that purpose. Following are some examples of the practical impact:
Work that shouldn’t happen, or that doesn’t need to happen, will stop
Effort and productivity will be channeled into work that more directly helps the company (or team, or department) advance
People will feel better about their work and their personal contributions, which increases engagement and reduces “presenteeism”, absenteeism and attrition.
Opportunities to help people understand how and where they can develop and grow will make themselves more apparent, which leads to more focused career growth for individuals, which in-turn leads to increased engagement.
Time. It takes time to really understand and internalize the company strategy. It takes time to foster communication, either through team meetings, 1:1 conversations, or online discussions. This time pays off with dividends, but finding and allocating time up front is always a challenge - but it can be found!
Change - Although the steps described above are simple, this is essentially a change effort. And that means it won’t be easy. It requires focus, repetition, and disciple to really help people internalize the purpose of their work.
Inertia - getting people to change when they discover misalignment or opportunities for better alignment isn’t easy. It’s much easier to keep doing what you are doing. Again, a concerted change effort is required.
Coordination - if your company strategy is not well communicated, your job will be much more difficult. Coordinating efforts with larger organizational units can be a challenge.
- Lack of coherent strategy - if your company strategy (or departmental strategy) is not well formed, there is clearly a greater challenge at play. In that case, start by focusing on individual purpose, and have open team discussions about how the team fulfills the organizational purpose. It’s important to work towards a coherent strategy.
Getting started is easy! Opportunities to get started with no approvals, budget, mandates or other roadblocks are:
Learn the corporate strategy and make the connections for yourself between it and your team’s work, and your individual work
If the company strategy is not clear, think of the product or services it provides or its importance to the local community. How does these impact the customers, community, environment?
Where the above bullet is lacking, focus on areas where you can help change this (small or large)
Start talking about these connections (the purpose of your work) in team meetings
Schedule 1:1’s with team members to help them make the same connections you are making
Goals, projects, teams, etc will change. Keep open, transparent communication with your team so trust and empowerment is strengthened, which will help people assess and connect to the team’s as well as their individual purpose along with these shifts.
Once people start making connections, the rest will happen organically. If someone is putting efforts into something that doesn’t help advance the core purpose, and they start to realize and think about this, they will likely find more effective ways to channel their efforts.
The world is changing and organisations at all levels are being questioned about their true purpose. I image working for NAS and many other such organisation would have been seen at not so long a go as working for an organising with that had great purpose, but just look what’s happening now!
“When NSA recruiters went to the University of Wisconsin earlier this week to pitch language students on working for the agency, they got more than they bargained for. The informed students turned the question-and-answer session into a hearing. On trial were the NSA's lies, their legality, and how they define "adversary". The students recorded audio of the exchange on an iPhone proving that the language-analyst NSA recruiters were left tongue-tied. "I'm surprised that for language analysts you're incredibly imprecise with your language," grad student Madiha Tahir charged when they failed to define what constitutes an adversary. "What you're selling us is untrue" she added. "We also know that the NSA took down brochures and fact sheets after the Snowden revelations because those fact sheets had severe inaccuracies and untruths in them -- so how are we supposed to believe what you're saying?" Another student directly challenged the NSA's morality for using the "globe as their playground" and then partying at the office with co-workers. She then challenges them to become whistleblowers because the truth will ultimately prevail. “
Just as some HR models have distinguished between 'intended', 'actual' and 'perceived', so too organizational purpose(s) can be distinguished. Over many years and in many organizations, I have observed middle managers perceiving purposes (e.g. around cost cutting and downsizing), alongside senior managers communicating more uplifting purposes (e.g. providing excellent customer service or faster to market times). This sets up potential conflicts and the practice of "watch what they do, not what they say". Alignment of purposes is much more than effective communication.
In addition a lot of the day to day processes and routines often relate solely to the KPIs by which achievement of the purposes will be measured and not to the purposes themselves. Gaming the system to get the desired engagement survey scores (as opposed to the engagement) springs to mind.
I'm sure both these caveats are widely recognized and I heartily agree with the main thrust - get the purpose clear and commonly understood.
Clive, really good points about intended, actual and perceived purpose. These likely do not often align in several organizations, which I think causes a lot of confusing, misguidance and lack of connection throughout. Even if the organization's purpose remains foggy, I wonder if a focus on individualized purpose (i.e. tapping and nurturing each employees purpose to their day-to-day work in relation to their life and who they are) could overpower this and contribute to their engagement, motivation, and ultimately performance?
It absolutely could. And I observe managers generating this attachment in their direct reports by coaching, encouragement and recognition of work well done.
However, there's a few catches that makes this route a 'second best' to buying into a clear organizational purpose.
For one thing the employee could be using their 'local' skill in a way that supports or hinders the overall organizational purpose. He or she wont know because they aren't clear what 'it' is. Secondly they are generating their own satisfaction etc. from their own efforts and independent of the organization. They begin to detach from 'belonging' and the retention risk will inevitable increase. After all they could do just as good a job somewhere else, and it might be that they could better understood how their efforts would contribute to that organization's purpose(s).
Another avenue one can pursue to get insight into the company's direction is to set up a one-on-one meeting with one's own manager/ head of department to talk about purpose. If, during the conversation, the manager is not clear on the exact direction, hopefully your questions will help him/ her to find a way to get clearer answers/ more information for themselves. This way one can influence from the "bottom upwards" and help the leader to get clarity on their own purpose and role in the organization!
Although it is always preferable that direction and purpose "come from the top" - building a solid structure is also built from the bottom upwards (and you get buy-in along the way as an added benefit).
Thanks Amanda - I agree and we should add something to this effect more explicitly. The conversation can be started by anybody, not just a leader.
love it--this is a great, subtle way to positively influence the alignment of the organization around the strategy!
Hi Sam and team--as your guide for this hack, I'd promised to add a few thoughts and comments. First off, let me say that this is a very solidly constructed hack--one of the models for hacks in this hackathon! Really well done.
You've done a real nice job making it "radical, yet practical" and especially focusing on the implementation side. Probably my favorite part is how you, in the "Solution" section, lay out a way that ANYONE ANYWHERE in the organization could come up with a way to tie their group's work to the larger corporate strategy, even absent a high level coordinated communications effort around the strategy. The tips for how to approach 1:1 conversations and discussions are fantastic.
One thought I had for the "Challenges" section is what do to if the company strategy is not only not well communicated, but also just not a very complete or fully articulated strategy at all? It may be that there is nothing this hack can do to help in that situation, but if you have any thoughts to add, that would be awesome.
I wish I had more to say. Overall this is a really well put together hack, with a solid practical implementation plan.
Thanks Chris! Really appreciate the feedback. I agree it would be good to address the situation of what to do if you can't figure out the company strategy (or, as Fiona implies in her comments, what to do if you don't buy into it once you figure out what it is).
Here’s a two-step challenge you can do with your team.
1. Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway was once challenged to write a novel in only six words. His response? “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Ask your team to write – in six words – what they see as the purpose of their role.
2. Ask your team to answer this question – how does your six word purpose help make the world a better place, and how does it link to the organisation’s purpose?
Sam - I love it! Thank you.
CSR is dead, long live social enterprise
We must move in to an era where companies do not separate themselves from the consequences of their operations, we must champion shared values
Thanks for the link Fiona - very interesting commentary. It's a good tie in. In this hack we're talking a lot about purpose in the abstract, but not really getting into what that means (i.e. creating shared value vs. strictly growing profits). I'll think about how to incorporate this.
Most business have one purpose that is to make money unfortunately often at the expense of people and the planet. Understanding the values that underpin the purpose that you are striving to achieve is key. If you cant buy in to the companies vales or see that they have double standards and mistrust the company you become disengaged from your purpose in the organisation. i.e they are perhaps outsourcing or licencing work to Asia where employees suffer poor working conditions and pay.
There are three reasons that companies hovers at the edge of a reputation precipice.
First, employees, consumers, shareholders, and other stakeholders are holding companies to higher and higher standards. Second, there’s a growing movement of socially conscious citizens, especially younger people, who are deeply concerned that too many people are still living in unacceptable social and economic conditions. Thirdly, easier access to information and the ability to share information quickly means that inappropriate behavior can’t be hidden for long.
Culture of Purpose: Deloitte.com Take a look at companies whose success is perennial. They sustain themselves by generating significant, positive impact for everyone their operations touch. They are keenly aware of the purpose they fulfill for stakholder, and other groups – and they integrate goals to serve those groups into their business’ core activities. Therefore, establishing a culture of purpose is important to a company’s entire stakeholder universe. Successful organizations, creating meaningful impact beyond financial performance is becoming the new normal…a business imperative. l
Really great points, Fiona! Thank you for sharing. This puts another dimension on what we are discussing here, I think. i.e. - do you agree with the purpose of the organization (and can you really believe in it).
Use this test to find out if your organisation has a purpose.
Materials- a roll of plain wallpaper, big pens and the ability to draw a donkey.
Stand up and move towards a colleague with the roll of wallpaper under one arm and a big pen in your other hand. Put the wallpaper down on your colleague’s desk, unfurl a few inches and give them the big pen. In a small voice, ask your colleague to write down the purpose of your organisation on the exposed portion of paper. If they say they can’t remember, tell them they have 3 minutes to write something down. Under no circumstances are they allowed to look it up. If they can’t think of anything in 3 minutes, draw a donkey and move on.
Repeat quickly with as many colleagues as you can.
Reveal the results to your chief executive by reading out loud from your scroll, Come Dine With Me style. If they all match, for example, if everyone says - ‘provide outstanding service every day, one customer at a time’, congratulations! Your organisation has a purpose!
If you have a mixture of donkeys and drivel, you have failed, your organisation does not have a purpose. You might have your purpose written down somewhere but that doesn’t count. That’s like checking a document to find out if you love someone.
Writing something down does not make it true. A true purpose is what you do every day.
Sam I think what you have said hits the nail on the head " do you agree with the purpose of the organization (and can you really believe in it). Unfortunately into-days climate a job is a job and many people don't have the luxury of working for companies and organisations they believe in. This is going to be the key issue we take a job as we need the money , unfortunately when you look deep into organisations they are often owned by the same small group of banks and filet that control the money, Employers may put lipstick on the pig regarding being purpose driven, but whole industries are profit driven in the private sector and target driven in the public sector. The key is to understand what actual drives the organisation you working, purpose does not alien well purely profit and targets. See thehBteam.org
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