Some years ago I attended a presentation in London by the legendary Theodore (Ted) Levitt, Professor of Marketing at Harvard Business School and one of his sayings has stayed with me ever since.
“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there”.
There was some resonance of Alice in Wonderland there.
Now I discover that the Roman philosopher, Seneca (4BC-65AD) said:
“If a man knows not what harbour he seeks, any wind is the right wind”.
So there is nothing new under the sun and both (or all) of them, of course, were right. Again for years I have used another little saying which I like very much and which is so relevant:
“People want to know two things; how am I doing and where are WE going”.
It is all a matter of good communication and it is the function of the leader to ensure that the team are kept well aware of both criteria. By far the best way is to have regular one-to-ones with everyone on the team. Timings and dates should be diaried and the time allocated must be sacrosanct.
It is a matter of respect for each team member and nothing should get in the way. The agenda, by the way, belongs to the team member not the leader. Length of time for each one-to-one? Anything from one to two hours is best and they should happen at least monthly.
The leader needs to ask questions and above all to listen. Regular one-to-ones like this almost obviate the need for annual appraisals because feedback monthly will ventilate the issue of “how am I doing?”
A useful starter leader question is: “What help do you want from me to enable you to improve your performance?” and I also like: “What don’t you want to discuss today?” It’s a bit in your face but with the right relationship it can really open up the conversation.
The “where are we going?” question is another matter. Setting the values, the vision and the goals for the future of the business should be largely a matter for the leader because they define the culture that the leader sees as appropriate for the business.
From then on setting the objectives and defining the strategy and the action short term and longer term is a matter of discussion with the team on a regular basis. It is, however, vital that when the objectives and the strategy have been set, some form of accountability needs to be established so that action can be monitored.
Too many strategic plans are beautifully presented and then languish in a filing cabinet until someone remembers and gets it out to see if it had worked.
Good planning with action and accountability answers both Ted Levitt and Seneca who might have said:
“When you DO know where you are going, your people will go with you, as long as they are consistently involved”.
Remember, no-one ever feels committed to achieving other peoples’ objectives.
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