A leader recently asked me how he could make a group of people work as a team when each of them had different points of view, values and objectives based on their function. How could the team align to accomplish the team objective?
The first thing that leaders need to get agreement on is the purpose of the team. A common purpose drives everything the organization does and guides decision making. When there is no common purpose, each team member decides according to their own standards, which of course, aren’t always aligned.
There is also a lot of confusion among leaders between purpose, mission and vision. Are they the same? Do we need all of them?
Mission and vision are created as part of the company’s strategy to set a direction. The vision is the destination; the mission is the how. The purpose is the why. The fuel to run the operations every day and overcome all the barriers.
It is not the same to say:
– I am writing a code – The person knows the function but may not feel compelled or motivated about it every day.
– I am building an app to help people learn leadership skills – when you know the why your coding, the end result and the impact it will have on other people, it is much easier to get motivated every day to move forward,
Van France, the founder of Disney Universities, once said, “we all want something that’s bigger than what we are doing”.
1) Involve team members in the purpose definition
First, the purpose discussion needs to start with the executive team. Many executives want to engage on purpose but hold thinking it may not be considered a priority. Still, many leaders aspire to a more significant social impact and want to change the company purpose but don’t know where to start. A coach or facilitator can help drive the discussion.
Employees and team members also need a reason to work and be engaged, and the purpose gives that meaning. It is an essential part of developing the purpose to discuss it with the team and make sure everyone understands how they connect their actions to that purpose. Delegating to HR is not as effective and engaging in the long term as facilitating a discussion with the entire company, even when it is much more time-consuming.
Many companies say they discussed the purpose with the employees, but Mckinsey’s research shows that while 72% of top leaders said they involved employees in developing the organization’s purpose, only 56% of frontline employees agree. This disconnection is what drives disengagement.
A Harvard Business review article showcased Dr. Reddy’s example, a global pharmaceutical company headquartered in India that produces affordable generic medication. Dr. Reddy’s CEO, Prasad, sought to evolve the culture to be nimble, innovative, and patient-centered. His leadership team began with a search for purpose. They worked to learn about everyone’s needs, from shop floor workers to scientists, external partners, and investors. They came up with: “Good health can’t wait.”
The goal was to demonstrate it, and use it to guide decision-making. After the idea of “good health can’t wait,” was introduced, one of the scientists developed a product in 15 days, something that is unheard of in the pharmaceutical industry. Similar to what happened recently with the quick development of a Covid-19 vaccine.
2) Develop rules to internalize the purpose to guide day-to-day decisions
Now, agreeing on the purpose is not enough. It has to be internalized and practiced every day. You need to have values or rules that help guide the purpose and work as a decision-making tool.
The same McKinsey research showed that an aerospace company conducted a company-wide exercise to help everyone “see more clearly the behaviors they needed to change as part of a purpose initiative.” The objective was to shift the focus of the company’s purpose from “we fly planes” to a more customer-service-oriented mission of “we fly people.” For instance, engineers saw how they were more focused on technical considerations in their designs than passenger comfort.
Google has their eight rules to drive innovation, while Zappos also has their ten rules that they developed with all the employee’s input to guide their behaviors and serve the customer better.
A list of 5 to 12 rules, no more than that, guide the expected behaviors and help employees make decisions daily.
3) Prioritize the rules and provide examples to avoid inconsistencies
The values need to be clear, prioritized and ranked based on which one is more important, and define behaviors to bring consistency. Companies can prototype the values, or provide a day-to-day tool kit with employees’ feedback, actions and stories on how they understand those values. They can even develop frontline “purpose ambassadors” to help in this process.
For example, if a value is Safety, the behavior could be “I take action always to put safety first.” A tool kit could include more specific actions such as “Identity, correct and immediately report safety concerns, avoid shortcuts and always ask: is there a safer way?”.
4) Never break the rules
Finally, remember that any incongruencies between what your organization says (strategy) and what it does (culture, behaviors and habits), will disengage from the purpose. Never break the rules, especially if you are the leader.
Companies, teams and projects need to define rules or values that help people understand the purpose and how they need to work every day. Rules are beneficial when companies grow too fast. They must be an essential part of the hiring interview, the onboarding training to help align employees and guide them through the entire employee experience, including every single meeting and project.
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