It is very common to talk about aligning people to a vision, aligning priorities and ensuring everyone is agreed on the focus. Despite countless metaphors such as “making sure we’re on the same page”, “singing from the same song book”, “dancing to the same tune”, there is a real lack of consensus in most teams about this all-important shared direction.
What would the answer be if you asked everyone in your team what the number one priority was?
It is very easy for a manager to think that she is being consistent and clear, and that the consequence of this is that everyone knows the priorities. What would be the result if you sent around a group email asking everyone to immediately respond with the team’s top three priorities – what would the result be? Most readers of this article would be shocked to see what comes back. Some will read this and have that instant recognition that maybe they haven’t done everything in their power to ensure that alignment. So as a quick, five-minute test of ‘alignment’, try it out. See what happens.
The natural response is for people to state their own tasks as being the most important
We see this in every organisation. Finance says that the company would fall to its knees without accountants. HR speaks of the value of selecting the right people. The marketing department says that without promotion a company can’t grow. IT reminds everyone of the infrastructure they sit on, etc. BUT, these are task-centred priorities with the classic ‘me-trap’. To create synergy and a unified team requires something more so that everyone can perform at their best.
Everyone contributes to the overall goals. Thinking that one link in the chain is more important than the other shows a lack of understanding of the inter-connectedness required to create a really effective, team-oriented environment. People enjoy the feeling that they are contributing something meaningful, but it needs to be seen as a contribution to a larger body of work.
Vision and values
Your organisation should have an overall direction that is clearly spelled out to everyone within the organisation. Some businesses aim for goals such as “become a leader in service delivery in our industry in our territory” or “become the employer of choice”. The translation of vision and values to goals for daily activities is a really important task for managers. Everyone in the business, from those with fairly menial, repetitive tasks through to senior managers, needs to know how their work is contributing to the core priorities. When people see meaning in their tasks then work satisfaction increases and positive work outcomes flow.
Can you, as a manager, name the three priorities of your team?
Every manager should always have a firm grip on what deserves the most time, money and attention. If you don’t even have your own set of priorities nailed down you can’t possibly expect your team to! You may surprise yourself to find that you don’t have the firm grip on what’s important that you thought you had.
And how do these priorities rise to the top of your list. If you aren’t driven by vision and values, you may find yourself in fire-fighting mode a lot more frequently than you really should. If the decisions are made early about which tasks are important and which aren’t, for you and your team, a huge reduction of stress will ensue. It is so easy to be swallowed up by minutiae and taken off course by emergencies and people pressing the panic button. It takes effort to pull everyone back on course.
Overall, it needs to be acknowledged that ‘aligned priorities’ means more than reciting a sentence or two from the company’s mission statement. It needs to have an effect every time a decision is made about what to do, how to spend time, how to spend money. These are the things that reduce friction in an organisation.