Leaders need to be involved in both strategic planning and team goal setting, but there’s a built-in problem here. Teams often tend to focus on immediate tasks, on “putting out fires,” and on familiar routines rather than the strategically vital organizational targets we set for the coming year.
Left to their own devices, many teams will simply return to the work with which they are most comfortable, and complete only what appear to be the most pressing short-term tasks. Their work runs the risk of becoming increasingly disconnected from the organization’s most important long-term goals.
Moving a team away from this classic trap – the trap of losing sight of major organizational initiatives by focusing only on today’s “emergencies” – is one of the constant tests of a company’s leadership. Passing that test means mastering the overlooked management skill of alignment. Alignment means identifying not only the right short-term tasks, but also the right long-term goals, perspective and attitude. Here are three steps you can take to keep your team aligned with your organization’s big goals for 2017.
Step One: Reach Out Early
Effective alignment requires a consultative approach, early on. It means launching discussions that take place as a given strategy is created. That often means you need to do some upfront work, by getting more people involved. You will end up saving time and effort, by inspiring more internal buy-in and deeper emotional investment, with your long-term strategic goals.
Alignment is inclusive, meaning, it allows input. People are far more likely to engage positively with a set of new goals for the year when they feel that their perspective has been taken into consideration and their concerns have been given a fair hearing. By including team members in planning discussions that will affect them, before a strategy is finalized, you will increase the team’s emotional investment in the strategy’s success. When your team members are included, it’s more likely that they will develop a sense of ownership of strategically important initiatives. That’s preferable to your strategy being seen as some upper management “directive” that comes out of nowhere.
Step Two: Keep Everyone Up to Date
One of the biggest sources of delay and confusion in executing strategies is team members and leaders who aren’t kept up to date with the latest information. Team members need not only transparency – meaning access to relevant Information – but also regular contact from someone who will share with them, on a personal level, what’s going on in relation to the big, new idea. People want to be kept in the loop about what affects them. They need to be reassured that they are being given all the relevant information, and that the deliverables for which they will be held responsible are going to be reasonable and within their power to complete. If you don’t communicate with them, they begin to fill in the blanks with their own reality… fantasy.
Keeping team members up to date falls under the heading of Ongoing Goal Communications. Other elements of good goal communication that support the “Up to Date” duty include:
- Personal support from organizational management ideally, with a clear understanding of the personal aspirations of each team member. Yes, these aspirations take a little time to uncover, but the time investment is almost always worth it. Look for ways to connect what the person wants to your strategic initiative!
- Concise written expression of the goals that are simple and effective, and do not rely on technical language or acronyms.
- Making sure everyone sees the same versions of goals, not a second- or third-hand summary.
- Identification of roles and responsibilities for each individual team member.
- Involvement and accountability at both the team and individual level.
- A means for submitting feedback and updating the team’s status going forward.
Step Three: Measure What Actually Happens
All the outreach and all the good communication in the world will be for nothing if the team is not actually producing performance consistent with the goals defined. Team leaders need to identify metrics by which the team’s behavior and outcomes can be measured over time against the goals and timelines that everyone has agreed on.
On a sales team, for instance, we ask managers to make sure each salesperson has a good cookbook. A cookbook is a set of actions or behaviors that, when undertaken daily, delivers a predictable, measurable outcome that the manager and the salesperson both agree constitutes “sales success.” Just like following the recipe for a chocolate cake carefully always results in a chocolate cake, following the sales cookbook always results in the level of income you and the salesperson have identified as the goal. Notice that the cookbook measures behaviors that are causally related to the outcome we want, in this case, closed sales. Cookbooks make it possible for team members and management to celebrate success more often, since they’re both watching activities that connect to both short-term behavioral targets and long-term behavioral goals. The same approach can be adapted to other teams in other departments.
If you reach out to the team, keep them up to date, and create and track the right metrics, you can make the company’s mission personal and keep each team in your organization on track this year.