This article by Grant Costello originally appeared at www.onbrandpartners.com
"The problem with strategy is not in the thinking but the doing," says TakeON! founder Paul Stewart. The reason why strategy so often fails is that the people charged with delivering it don't know it exists, just don't get it in context of their role, or it doesn’t mean enough to them to warrant giving their best.
Shouldn't we all just get on and do what we are employed to do regardless of its meaning? Do the hours, take the cheque and be satisfied that the mortgage can be paid again this month? That's what many leaders hope for but, as a recent McKinsey article points out, we are all human with "a constant flow of emotions, motivations and perceptions" that influence how
we behave at work and therefore what we achieve.
It's actually very hard for us to 'do the doing' well (i.e. execute strategy) if it doesn't make sense or have real meaning to us. Meaning or a 'purpose' in life is critical – just ask anyone who's going through the 20th mid-life crisis. Your purpose might be to make as much money as possible, or to make the world a better place. We all need to justify why we spend most of our life working.
The McKinsey article How leaders kill meaning at work the looks at how many leaders actually undermine creativity, productivity and commitment of their staff, leaving them wondering why they even bother. Discussing the outcomes identified in their book 'The Progress Principle', the article’s authors say "Of all the events that can deeply engage people in their jobs, the single most important is making progress in meaningful work".
This point was reinforced to me when I saw a client video where a staff member has realised that he is not 'just an IT person', but has a significant role to play in helping to look after the financial welfare of their six million customers. I'm sure this guy has much more fire in his belly now with a much clearer line of sight to the end customer. We can also look to the famous story of the cleaner at NASA who, when asked what he did, said he "was helping put a man on the moon". That's something meaningful to be proud of, and work hard for, way beyond simply making the floors shiny.
Connecting all staff into the higher purpose of the organisation is therefore critical, if you want them to give their best. While all businesses must make a profit, most staff don’t buy into that particular purpose alone. Real purpose relates to more emotional dimensions like helping customers, protecting customers, and making things easier for customers.
The article investigates four traps for leaders. Not surprisingly, I recognised every one of them in managers I have worked for in the past. The traps are:
· Mediocrity signals Are leaders signaling that mediocrity is OK? If so, that's what they will get.
· Strategic 'attention deficit disorder' This refers to the starting and abandoning of initiatives for little reason. The term flavour of the month comes to mind here.
· Corporate Keystone Cops Failing to act, lack of co-ordination, contradicting each other, providing ambiguous information. Sound familiar?
· Misbegotten 'big hairy audacious goals' Objectives that are so grandiose they have little meaning to those expected to achieve them, or so internally focused they forget the all-important customer!
All these things prevent people from "believing they can produce something of high quality". So it's up to leaders to provide clarity and meaning to staff if they want them to perform. (i.e. How does my role contribute to something
The authors are so right when they say that senior managers need to be aware that even their "smallest actions pack a wallop because what you say and do is intensely observed by people down the line." I think all leaders have been 'down the line' themselves and know exactly what this means.
Read the McKinsey article here.
To access it (and lots of other
great content) you will need to register on the McKinsey site.
It's free and quick to do.