When Motivating Employees, Do Words Get In the Way?
Leaders struggle with semantics and rely too much on business shorthand to communicate with employees. This can confuse followers who need clear direction to align their contributions to the organization’s mission.
Mission, goal, Big Idea, strategies, concept, target. All these start to overlap in conversations as a business leader tries to articulate his or her path to profit.
What is the mission? Does it contain or express a Big Idea that will set the organization apart from the competition? Is the mission a Big Goal, with a series of annual goals to guide implementation? Is strategy really the expression of how you achieve your big idea? Isn’t that also called a “goal?”
At Bovo-Tighe, we don’t make the Big Ideas, but we do make the achievement of the Big Ideas easier through our employee engagement work. To do that, we need to know the destination of all the additional productivity we unleash in employees. Otherwise, the new flows of energy and creativity are not focused in a unified direction, and will be wasted.
Here is where a recent article on the Strategy& blog comes in handy. The writer, Ken Favaro, attempts to bring some clarity for executives around how to talk about strategic direction, and the plans (and goals) that need to be put in place to keep employees focused in the right direction. (We call this “aligned, passionate action.”)
Favaro makes a very important point about the mechanical, underthought tendency to convert strategy into very specific numerical goals. These have the false attraction of being concrete, but can very much skew action away from the core mission, as team leaders drive their employees to hit that tactical number. This energy may or may not add to the success of the overall mission!
Here is the phrase I like:
“If some goals tell you little or nothing about what strategies to pursue, other goals effectively tell you too much. This happens when goals are expressed in terms of metrics, for example, to achieve a certain size, market share, growth rate, margin, or rate of return. Where do such goals come from? In the end, they are arbitrary, no matter how much they might be informed by benchmarking or past performance. And they have a profound effect on the direction your strategies take.”
Goals expressed in terms of metrics can turn into a trap that constrains employees from adjusting and realigning action in response to marketplace signals. Such goals must be set as guidelines rather than mandates, and senior leadership needs to have the courage to adjust or drop goals that are out of line with the reality of their marketplace.
As we have written before, you often have to get out from behind the handy shorthands of “business speak” and describe your mission/goals/strategic direction in more human terms that tie each team’s roles to the Big Idea that you hope will make the business a success.