In my last post, I told you the story of Chris, a manager who upon his promotion restored the performance of a talented team by giving the workers autonomy – but autonomy guided by four critical questions that Chris used to communicate the company’s values: • Is this the right thing for the customer? • Is this the right thing for the short- and long-term financial performance of the company? • Is this the right thing for my coworkers? • Will this action help us be a better company tomorrow than we are today?
At the end of the story, I asked you two questions: Why did it work so well, and what else did Chris need to do to communicate those values successfully? To answer the first question, consider the frustration of operating without a clear understanding of an organization’s values.
To use a sports analogy, imagine you’re a running back on an unmarked field. On first down, you take the hand-off and move four steps to your left. The referee blows the whistle and says you went out of bounds. The next play, you go two steps to the right, and you get whistled again. How completely demotivating is that?
After a few more plays like that, you’re going to start running straight into the line, because it seems futile to try to go around. You’re going to go nowhere, but you know you won’t get into trouble, either. You’re going to do the minimum to keep your job.
That’s what the pros on Chris’s team had been reduced to before he joined them. They felt they couldn’t make a move without the “ref” blowing the whistle on them. After a while, they gave up and did the minimum to keep their jobs.
Chris restored their motivation by giving them his trust. But he gave them trust with accountability, guided by the company’s values, translated into four questions that could guide their daily work.
The four questions were well thought out. You might use similar questions for your organization. But Chris knew they weren’t enough, and here’s why: We like to think of values as a black and white, clearly drawn lines. But in the real world, sometimes the line is gray. Before you make that decision, you should ask somebody else. What if, for example, the commitment I’m making to this customer – doing the right thing for her – has a negative impact on somebody else in my organization? What if the special discount I offer makes the company better today (because I made the sale) but might make it worse off tomorrow (because word might get around that other customers can demand the same discount, cutting our profit margins)?
When the line is gray, before you make that decision, you have to ask somebody else. A manager has to navigate these gray lines and communicate the thinking process behind them to the rest of the team.
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