Team Leaders Use the Power of Truth to Align Motivation With Mission
We put a lot of emphasis here at Bovo-Tighe on a foundational leadership principle we call “The Pursuit of Truth.” We emphasize this mindset because the best leaders model honesty and transparency as productive behaviors, and seek the same from the people who work with and for them. They want information, good and bad, so that they can pour more energy into good ideas, nip unproductive actions in the bud, reduce unproductive tangential work, and foster better alignment of the team’s effort with the organization’s mission.
- Only with good information can “accepted truths” about how to run the team or unit be challenged and amended.
- Only if all parties value the truth above protecting their job or turf can motivations and effort of all the working parts of the organization be fully aligned with achieving its strategic mission.
Many Opinions – One Elusive Truth
An organization is made up of operational units, each of which has a motivational system that directs its effort. These motivations could be revenue, costs, output or some other metric, depending on their function. If these multiple motivational systems get misaligned, this creates friction within the organization that makes achieving success harder. This is not just a tale of malicious, political, back-stabbing corporate dysfunction, either. Well-meaning people who create the annual plans for each functional area may be too tied to past performance, insolated in their siloes, and not challenged by the employees who have to make the dysfunctional plans and budgets work (somehow).
In a recent column on Strategy-Business.com called Uncomfortable Truths Just Don’t Go Away, contributor Eric McNulty writes about this critical Pursuit of Truth success factor in leadership. McNulty focuses on how misaligned incentives create different narratives within supposedly collaborative divisions of one organization. What seems to an outsider like a resolvable problem can persist because no one steps out of their own role to call everyone together to discuss the inherent conflict.
“Whether you attribute it to misaligned incentives or the failure of each side to see the bigger picture, (you see) how easy it is for dueling realities to create enduring dysfunction in an organization.”
You could also use the phrases “competing realities” or “conflicting realities.” Each part of the organization has its own understanding of what its mission is, and senior executives are not actively refereeing and eliminating these conflicts.
McNulty uses the good example of a retail store that runs its staffing on a strict cost-based budget that is not tied to sales, but then turns around and incents its purchasing department on revenues. These motivational programs are misaligned:
- Store managers would be criticized for adding staff to properly sell all the products on the shelf. Their success metric could be stated as “How leanly can you run the store and still have it turn a profit?” Store managers get no credit for experimenting to see if one extra person on busy shifts would profitably sell more product.
- Purchasers get frustrated as they see higher-margin, higher priced products languish on the shelves. They know these products would sell well with a little push from staff, but the staff is too busy just handling orders to upsell customers properly to the higher-margin goods.
Better Collaboration is a Universal Good
Most people want to have exciting jobs that have meaning and fresh challenges. Connecting their motivations to the grand scheme of things starts with telling each other the truth about how their own team works, how well they understand their role, and how they could work better with the teams around them.
Adopting the pursuit of truth leadership mindset does not have to start at the top. It can start with one manager in the middle of the organization who decides to work with complementary units to understand each other’s “reality” so that the teams can better align their collective effort. This collaboration should lead to more combined productivity, which should attract the attention of other groups who want to share that success.
You don’t need permission from the CEO to start conversations about this with your boss, his or her peers, and your own team. Make a real difference in 2016: Get your team alignment initiative started!