I am a big believer in vision and strategy (OK – no greatshock there). You might say it is more important in the fast-paced technology sector but I am not so sure. As far as I can tell fast is just the norm – in every sector.
Speed is critical but speed with alignment is explosive. Yes, all of the old analogies apply like “for the best performance everyone needs to row in the same direction.” Ahh - if were only that easy; like just saying “let’s just work together.” Wouldn’t it be great if we could just put one of those “motivational” posters in everyone’s office and have the organization accelerate? I’m sorry if I offend anyone but what a load of crap. I don’t think people are inspired by posters – they are inspired by ideas, vision, passionate leaders, true teamwork and the idea of making a difference.
So, there are a lot of ideas on how to align an organization. You must, of course, communicate and describe the vision. That is necessary, but usually not sufficient as it just leaves too much open to interpretation. Most of us have probably played the game where you sit in a circle and someone whispers something into the ear of the person on their right. That person the “repeats” the story to the next person and it story goes around the circle and comes back to the original person. The story is never the same.
Technology has really helped us communicate better and, more importantly, even more directly. For me, even simple things like Blog’s are a great thing. One of my favorite communication foibles I would encounter in running a large organization would be what everyone called the “Mark said.” We would be in a project review and the whole plan would be changed – I would ask “what happened here – why did you make the change?” They would answer “because you told us to.” The usual debate would ensue (while I am secretly wondering if it was time to see a doctor for memory loss); what would come out is something like “remember the time you were walking through the lab and Ted showed you his pet project and you said “that looks nice” – well we thought you wanted the whole program changed.” Yikes - I quickly learned to be careful with even the simplest comments.
While technology allows us to overcome much of the communication issues and even if everyone is now clear on the vision – that is still not enough. Assuming you have a vision and a strategy and want to align an organization, one of my favorite tools is the BHAG. BHAG stands for Big Hairy Audacious Goal (some folks use another “A” word). The term has been around for a while but I first saw the power of this principle from Mike Reutgers (Former EMC CEO/Chairman). I didn’t learn this lesson by working for Mike though – I learned it when I was at DEC and Compaq and competing against Mike and the EMC team.
The BHAG principle is simple; if you want to really make an organizational shift then the way to do it is to create a big hairy audacious goal. Like any goal, it needs to be simple, direct, and measurable. And, per the name, it also needs to be BIG; it must be a stretch for the organization.
There is another trick to the BHAG. You don’t just communicate the vision you communicate the goal. And not just to your employees; you tell everyone so there is no room to hide. You would be surprised at the difference. It’s like the deserted island principle – you are engaged if you go to the deserted island and try to survive – you are committed if you burn your boat when you arrive.
Next, you reward based upon how well the team achieved the goal. You reward mostly for team success (not individual accomplishments) as, for every company, this is a team sport.
Sounds pretty basic but it can be amazingly hard. It is hard because (I believe) people get caught up in setting goals that try to be too inclusive in the wrong ways. BHAG’s often appear to be very focused on a new thing without addressing many current “things.” That is OK and even necessary but people need to understand that this is really a whole team effort. BHAGs are often meant to drive transformation; or to drive new growth. These goals will typically involve a new market growth , or business transformations but, they actually need to be understood and embraced by the whole organization.
Transformations will always have individuals and teams in so called “legacy” roles or businesses – the businesses are usually as (if not more) critical to the overall corporate success and need to be respected as an integral part of the overall effort. Many times, organizations will need to sacrifice funding or resources so they can be used for a new effort – this is clearly teamwork!
BHAGs can also turn out to be very embarrassing and even career limiting for those who are not successful but, over the years, I have learned that they also can empower and guide an organization with a speed and focus that would not normally be possible.