Typically an organization's mission and core values are shared with new team members as part of some form of onboarding activity.
Then, they may be repeated at a yearly meeting of sorts. And maybe at that yearly meeting of sorts there's also going to be goal sharing and various ways that progress will be measured.
And for most organizations, that's pretty much the extent of the team member's exposure to ongoing strategy, the mission, and the values.
Basically, “Here's how we're going to measure and here's where we're going.” And that's pretty much it. It's sporadic and it's vague.
So what can a leader do to help create more opportunities for team members to connect with that broader picture?
The very first thing to verify is whether the elements are clear. Do individual team members understand what is the organization's vision, its mission, and its goals?
It's one thing to share these with the team. It’s another to know that they understand them. Do they understand what they mean? Some may be pretty clear and don't require explanation. Others may not be as clear as we think.
Or perhaps they weren't shared as part of an onboarding. Maybe the person was onboarded and thrown into their role without much of an explanation as to what the organization does and why it does it, and all of those things.
It's really important that team members be clear on what it all means. On why the business does what it does. And a great way to illustrate that is by sharing client stories with them. Explain the journey of the client. How do they become a client in the first place? How are they onboarded? What happens while they're working with the organization, collaborating with the organization, what happens after? Share that.
Also, share the successes. How has the business pushed innovation or contributed to a client's success through the work that was done? Remember to also share a couple of failures because we learn through them – or at least we really should try! Share what happened. Share “Here's why we're doing this this way, or we've decided to go for this goal because we realized that this was problematic because here's what happened.” So that very first effort is really all about understanding and making sure that everybody is on the same page.
The second part of it is making sure they know how they fit in. You've explained the organization in general, what happened in the past, your client stories and successes and failures, etc. Then, it’s linking the two: the organization is here today and here's how you fit in.
Explain how their work contributes to that larger purpose of the organization. Encourage discussion between team members so that they can discuss how their work complement each other.
It's a lot more motivating to understand how our work makes a difference. Understand why it is that what they are doing is important. The impact it has on the client.
Sometimes, it can feel a little nebulous, especially for larger organizations. You might feel really disconnected from the work that you are doing right now and the impact on the person when they're, for example, a hundred people between you and the client.
So that's why it's so important to remind them of why what they do plays a crucial role in the business and in solving the client's problems. Show them how what they do is important. It's really nice to feel like we're contributing to something and it's not just putting in our hours. It's really nice when we feel like the time we spent at work made a difference in someone's life. As opposed to: “All right, well I suppose I'm collecting a paycheck today.” Without minimizing the necessity to earn a living. That's obviously important too. At the same time, maybe we can elevate that and make it a little bit more than that and make that team member feel like they are here for a reason and that their role matters.
As a side note: if you can't explain why that role matters, how that role plays a crucial part in the end game for the client, in your product, in your service, then you really need to be revisiting why that role is there in the first place. Ask yourself why you are paying for a role that isn't contributing? If you find that you can't explain why, there may be a much bigger problem there. It doesn't necessarily mean eliminating but maybe it's about revisiting what that person does. Maybe it means realigning. Maybe that role was created at a time when things were different, the environment was different, the business was different, and no one has revisited what that role does even though the organization has evolved. Take a moment, review all of that and try to place the member elsewhere. Surely they're awesome if you've kept them for this long!
Another reason why it's so important to keep team members connected to that big picture is to get their feedback. Team members are usually the first ones to see something, to identify something because they're there every day collaborating with the clients, developing the product, seeing how it's applied, how it is received, the complaints. They have all kinds of information that should be surfaced. Make sure that you are providing opportunities for team members to surface any kind of alignment problem. Is it maybe that now the goals have evolved in such a way that what we're doing is no longer in line with where we were going, or it’s no longer in line with the mission, with the vision, with the longer-term goals.
Maybe our short-term goals no longer match the medium-term and long-term. Maybe we're completely going off-track and it's harder to see from a more distanced position and the person who's right there doing it every day may be seeing things really early on.
And we want that information as soon as possible.
So try to provide opportunities for team members to surface that.
But the only way they can surface that, is if they understand the bigger picture. If they understand what we are doing here.
And when they understand that, then they're able to surface that. When they understand their role, they are able to surface that. And so it's an incredible opportunity to stay ahead and be on top of issues, catch them early, nip things in the bud.
Really make sure that you provide opportunities to surface that. And it really keeps everyone headed in the same direction because if a team member notices something and mentions it: “Oh wait, this section was going in one direction, this section's going in another direction, we're no longer going in that same general direction.”
And by doing so, we can realign, we can course correct, but we have to provide the opportunity for them to surface that. And the only way that they can notice it is if they understand that bigger picture and are keenly aware of what that is and where we're going as part of that effort.
It's also a great opportunity to seek out suggestions for improvement and innovation because by understanding the business strategy, then they can contribute to new ideas and help keep the cycle of continuous improvement going.
Therefore, one of the most important things to do is to keep making discussion strategy a common occurrence.
It's one thing to say: “Hey, I've presented you with our big, huge, broad mission and then our vision and then our values.” That's great. That's our culture. It's fantastic. But it’s another to make sure you also share some of the goals, share the strategy to get there and involve the team in being the keepers of that and ensuring that we are staying on path.
Provide that opportunity.
Make discussing strategy a common occurrence.
The best productivity comes from teams that are well-informed and feel valued.
When you're sharing decisions, take a moment to add in the “why” behind it. Bring it back to here's why, because of that bigger picture. This is not an attempt to lead by consensus, but rather to encourage conversation and benefit from the power of keeping your team connected to your business strategy.