Simplify The Mission

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Companies are complex organisms.  Living, breathing, and (hopefully) growing entities that can have a lot of moving parts.  Obviously, the larger they grow, the more complex they become.  It’s no stretch to understand keeping a single proprietor on course is easier than keeping a company of 10,000 individuals rowing in the same direction.  Systems and processes are helpful in the effort, but I’m going to make it even easier.  It is all about the simplified mission.

Complex missions or battle plans are very difficult to execute over a long period.  The more you grow and the further you get from the point of origin, the more difficult it becomes.  Lines get blurry, moving parts get added, and the distribution of resources changes the lens.  It gets fuzzy and difficult to know if you are on course.  Google’s original mission will always strike me as something special, and their success is evident.  Google set out to, “organize the world’s information.”  The mission is clear, and every employee knows if they are working towards it or if they have drifted off course.  The mission serves as a beacon in the distance.  Every employee can look up and know if they are on course.

Working in the technology and healthcare space for the last 28 years, I found it troubling that each group within our organization was aiming at a different target.  Engineering was aiming at a time-based target while support focused on keeping the number of “issues” below a self-imposed threshold.  Quality assurance, sales, and implementation each had a different perspective on their role and how they would meet the objectives.  It makes sense that each role had a different skill set and a different function to perform, so they would naturally have different targets…or does it? 

Staying with my healthcare technology example, what if we simplified the mission to, “make the caregiver’s day easier today than it was yesterday”?  Now let’s see what that does to the team.  Design and development now focus on software with one goal in mind; making the caregiver’s day better.  Support is no longer worried about an arbitrary number.  They are focused on resolving a caller’s issue so the caregiver can get back to providing care to the patient.  Implementation emphases a relational training model that appreciates how the product changes the caregiver’s workflow.  The focus on “making the caregiver’s day better than the day before” becomes the unified mission of every group.

5 Steps to a simplified mission

1.       Survey the team to understand the current mission as seen through the group’s view.  Do not assume their understanding of the mission is consistent with yours or with other teams.  It is important to appreciate how each team sees their role, as it will provide excellent perspective as you attempt to simplify the mission.

2.       Total market domination is an obvious macro-mission, but what does it take to get there?  An open and honest discussion of the simple measurements is important.  In the example above, it was, “develop a product the nurses or caregivers will use.” That was the key to design, development, implementation, support, and sales.

3.       When you think you have simplified it to the lowest level, you probably have two more levels to go.

4.       Train leaders on the simplified mission and allow them to develop the metrics used for their respective teams.  The mission will be the same. However, the metrics may be different for each group.

5.       Demonstrate the conviction to the simplified mission by constant and consistent reinforcement from all levels of leadership and management.

A simplified mission means everyone in the organization can ask, “did I make progress towards the mission?” on every task, every project, and every day.


The Negativity Virus


Negativity allowed to fester in your organization is worse than a flawed strategic plan.  It is worse than an under-performing team or being the last one in a market and struggling for penetration.  It is worse than just about any scenario you can think about because it can take your organization down.  It will undermine the best of teams.  Your strategy, your momentum, and your team will be brought to their knees by allowing negativity to spread within the company.  Route it out quickly and take caution if it is ever coming from your leadership.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The speed of the leader determines the rate of the pack.”  Or you might have heard it this way, “The speed of the leader the speed of the team.”  Either way, it hits home here.  A leader must flush out negativity and embrace optimism as a value.  It should be valued alongside humility, integrity, excellence, or any number of virtuous traits that set you apart from the others.

I had a “look in the mirror” moment a year into a situation where I was asked to help turn a product around.  It was a product developed out of necessity and launched quickly.  It worked well in its current space; however, there were significant oversights we had to resolve before we could exploit other sectors of the market.  Progress was slow, and change was difficult.  I noticed my tendency to vent frustrations with key team members.  I knew it was wrong at the moment, but it became routine in our conversations.  It was not long before I was able to see my negativity in others.  I remember the first blast back from a team member, and all I could think was, “I created that!”  How could we be successful now that my team members had turned negative?  They lost their inspiration, and I was the cause.  I was embarrassed!

It was about that time I came across Simon Sinek’s job title; Chief Optimist.  I stopped at that moment and asked myself, “Could I ever hold that position?”  It has been my mantra ever since.

You don’t have to “fake it until you make it” or ignore reality, and I’m not suggesting you bury your head in the sand.  In fact, you should be well grounded in the truth of your world.  I’m merely saying, leaders, must adopt the posture of one who is always making lemonade.  After all, your team is looking to you for direction.  They are inspired by a leader brave enough to take the proverbial bull by the horns and optimistic enough to know she is capable of wrestling the bull to the ground.  After all, optimist leaders are seen as resilient problem solvers whose attitude becomes infectious.

So Leaders, Buck Up!  Lead your team with humility, transparency, and optimism.  Make sure your team knows you understand the situation and you have a positive plan to lead them to a victorious outcome.  Follow the words of Winston Churchill and “…see an opportunity in every difficulty.”

Transactional vs. Relational

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Transactions seem to be a focal point in business.  Companies use it as a marker for success.  After all, closing a deal creates a “runners type high,” and ultimately we must close deals to stay in business.  There is no getting around that simple fact.  But are we missing something?  Is our pursuit of the almighty transaction coming at a higher price and more effort than if we focused on the relational aspect of our customers and their business needs? 

I submit that a transaction-focused approach is short-sighted.  Long-term relationships, even though they may delay the deal, create long-term transaction opportunities and speed up the closure rate in the end.  Sterile or simple transactions are not memorable but establishing a relationship with the sales rep willing to invest in getting to know you as a customer is.  And when you run into a colleague looking for a similar solution, are you going to recommend the online transaction or the rep that took an interest in you?

A close friend of mine is a residential real estate agent.  I remember him telling me something ten or fifteen years ago, and it stuck with me.  He said, “I’m not focused on selling a house to the person in front of me.  I’m confident that I will find the right home for them.  I’m more focused on establishing a relationship with my client and gaining their trust.  I want their experience to be so positive that I become the real estate agent for their brother, sister, parent, cousin, or coworker.  I've bet my career on the value of strong relationships.”  It stayed with me because had my friend focused on the transaction; he might not have sold the 5-plus additional homes down the line.  To this day, my friend does not market or put his face on park benches.  Business comes to him.

So, if you buy what I’m selling, you recognize the long-term investment in relationships pays a significant dividend.  Now, how do you develop a culture of prioritizing relationships over transactions?

Establish your domain expertise and an interest in others:

There are five sources of power a leader draws from, and I will write about them in more detail later.  Creating a relational partnership and the influence to guide others comes down to just two of them. Referent and expertise are the two most effective sources of a leader’s power.  The referent power comes from the ability to influence others through establishing trusting relationships.  Domain expertise is self-explanatory.  It is the ability to influence others by establishing trust through a demonstrated mastery of a topic.  Combining these two power sources creates lasting partnerships that result in transactions.

Bottom Line

Focus on establishing your expertise and creating relationships with those around you.  Invest in getting to know them.  Your expertise will shine through in your work and those around you will rally to follow such a leader.