Does everyone in your company understand your common goals?
Does everyone in your company agree with those goals?
Does everyone in your company work effectively and efficiently toward achieving those goals?
Before you answer, I’d encourage you to ask a handful of employees those three questions. I’d be willing to bet their answers will surprise you.
For all the talk of alignment, vision, values, and mission statements, why is it so much and misalignment still exists within our companies?
It is because we typically treat handle mission, vision, and values (MVV) separate from our management of the day-to-day actions and decisions of our team members. Because we set and talk about our mission, vision and values once a year (if that) and talk about and manage our day-to-day actions and decisions daily, the two drift apart, and the day-to-day becomes the true north for our employees.
This is a leadership problem, not an employee problem. To make the leap from MVV all the way to daily actions is difficult even when you were in the room when the MVV were set. Imagine how difficult it is for an employee to hear it once at a corporate event and then try to point it into action day in and day out. It’s not going to happen.
What we need then is a way to map our MVV all the way down to the non-trivial actions we take every single day. Here’s how!
1. Start with your Mission, Vision & Values
The alignment conversation must always start with the company’s mission, vision, and values. While almost every organization I work with has all three before we start working together, we quickly realize there are show-stopping problems with all three.
Mission Statement: What
Every company needs a mission statement, not because it has any value, but because of the foundation it establishes for every activity of the enterprise. Is that activity moving us toward our mission, or are we just handing out paychecks for fun? A mission statement is a lot like the footer of a foundation. If you pour a strong footer but never build on top of it, all you have is some concrete filling the bottom of a hole in the ground. Mission statements aren’t set it and forget it. You need to build on top of them.
Samuel Johnson once said, “People need to be reminded more than they need to be instructed.” Yet, as leaders, we tend to share our vision once (while it is still new and exciting) and then assume everyone has got it. Vision doesn’t work this way.
We usually get sick of saying something after the second or third time we say it. Yet, a new vision typically isn’t caught by a team until they have heard it seven times or more. Do the math, and you’ll understand why we have such a huge vision problem in our companies.
Your job as CEO is not so much to establish a vision as it is to paint a vivid picture of that vision and share it again and again and again. For this reason, Chief Reminding Officer may be a more accurate title than CEO.
The most important thing about values is that you resist the urge to choose values that sound right and focus on those that actually are right.
Your true values are what you consistently communicate, celebrate, and compensate. Unfortunately, these three activities rarely intersect with the words we painted on the wall or plastered on our corporate website. For more on value, check out this article and this series.
2. Communicate your Goals
Most companies establish their mission, vision, and values and then rush back to the home office and start a campaign proclaiming their newfound clarity. This is fun, but it is a huge mistake.
These campaigns usually lack the capacity to direct your employees’ daily lives and often conflict with the senior leadership team’s past (even recent) actions. This leaves employees to figure out what is true, which they deem to be how things worked before the announcement. They then disregard the MVV as corporate propaganda and business BS and get back to work.
Instead of rushing out to tell the world about your MVV, I recommend that you keep building toward alignment first.
The first layer we build on top of our MVV is goals. Goals are the key quantified objectives that reach your mission and vision over the next three to five years without sacrificing your values.
Without disclosing (or at least without making a big deal of your MVV), you can announce your goals as an organization. These are much more tangible and quantifiable announcements. Goals do a far better job of aligning a team, especially when those goals were formed out of a shared MVV.
When setting multi-year corporate goals, you must ensure the following:
- They are in alignment with and move you toward your MVV
- Everyone on your senior leadership team is 100% committed to achieving them
- They are realistic and achievable
- They require you to stretch, change focus, and grow
- They can be tracked regularly
3. Include others when setting Strategies
If you stop building with goals, you will still require every employee to fill in the massive gap between a corporate goal five years from now and an individual action five minutes from now. While this is an order of magnitude better than campaigning on your MVV, the job of leadership is far from over.
From our goals, we need to take the next step and establish strategies. These are high-level plans you will create to attain the organization’s primary goals.
At the strategic level, we are finally starting to put some meat on the bone. Our abstract MVV are now coming into clearer focus as we identify target markets, key product lines, and core methods for going to market.
When setting strategies, it is wise to open the decision-making team to a broader group. I typically recommend top managers and other key stakeholders in the company, in addition to the senior leadership team. Broadening the decision-making team has multiple benefits:
It subjects the decision to more real-world realities
MVV and goals are often established at offsite meetings and long-range planning sessions. These sessions necessarily do not happen at the ground level. This is ideal for MVV and goals, but once those goals need to be translated into the real world, a dose of reality goes a long way.
It tears down the SLT wall
As a senior leadership team begins working together more effectively, it is not uncommon for an informal and unspoken barrier to appear between the SLT and the rest of the company. I call this the SLT wall. Bringing in additional team members helps to tear down the wall (also check out this article on cross-functionality)
It creates greater buy-in from more people
Like the previous two points, opening up the strategy discussion allows a greater number of people to buy-in to the company’s direction. This improves the likelihood that everyone in the company will understand, agree with, work effectively, and efficiently toward the company’s goals.
4. Begin letting go of tactics
This is where all of your hard work starts to pay off. If you have the right organizational structure, an SLT that leads laterally, and have developed the muscle of cross-functionality throughout the company. You don’t have to do any of the hard work of determining which tactics will move you toward your goals the fastest.
Tactics are the specific short- and medium-term activities necessary to attain the organization’s strategies, and they are actually the purview of senior and mid-level managers. Instead of the SLT trying to figure all of this out, you can focus on communicating the MVV, goals, and strategies to the company and leave them to fill in all the blanks.
When a senior team does this for the first time, it’s a little scary. Giving up control can be intimidating, but if done correctly, intimidation turns to liberation in a very short period of time.
By letting go of all the minutia of finding, trying, and assessing new tactics, the senior leadership team can focus on the more important and effective work. This includes handling top opportunities and threats and creating the environment for high-quality decisions to be made across the organization, even if none of the SLT members are in the room when those decisions are made.
At this point, senior leaders finally get to experience pull management as opposed to push management. They don’t have to drive, force, or cajole. They just have to cultivate the momentum that is already there.
5. Align every action
Every company wants alignment to ensure that they are making progress toward achieving its mission every day. To do so, we must ensure our actions are moving us in the right direction.
Actions are the non-trivial day-to-day decisions, activities, and choices made by every employee. Taken together, those actions should materially accelerate the achievement of the organization, division, department, project, group, or team’s agreed tactics.
When we try to jump straight from mission, vision, and values all the way to actions, it is incredibly difficult for the Senior Leadership Team to map out and communicate every step in the process. It is also incredibly difficult for the employees to draw a straight line from their daily work to the company’s mission.
In his book The Truth About Employee Engagement, Patrick Lencioni identifies three signs of a miserable job. See if you can now recognize why each sign problem exists in so many companies: anonymity, irrelevance, immeasurability.
When we don’t bring our team into the decision-making process, they are typically left to feel like a mindless automaton. If it goes on long enough, the team will start to act like one too.
When we don’t connect how doing dishes moves us closer to our mission of bringing families together for a wholesome meal, you end up burning through one dishwasher after another after one person shows up late, tries to leave early, and does a lousy job while they’re there. And all of that is your problem as a leader, not theirs as an employee.
Mission, vision, and values, even when communicated well, are inherently difficult to measure. If we don’t do the hard work of breaking these abstract ideas into concrete goals, strategies, and tactics, our employees won’t know which actions matter and will lose job satisfaction and productivity as a result.
I hope by now, you have a clear understanding of what alignment is and how it is achieved. The only way for you to maximize your team members’ productivity to create lasting success is by directing every non-trivial action toward the company’s mission. The best way to do that is to start with your true mission, vision, and values, communicate your specific and quantifiable goals, include others when setting strategies, and then begin letting go of tactics so you can align every single Action.
There is no greater personal and financial reward from leadership than to see an entire organization alive and well, maximizing it’s potential and enjoying every step of the way.
Five ways to align every person and every action within your company
Alignment always starts with your Mission, Vision & Values
To lead with mission, communicate your Goals
Why setting Strategies isn’t your job as the leader
The glorious freedom in letting go of Tactics
How your employees can be happier AND more productive