As leaders, we’ve all been there; looking back on the goals of a fiscal year realizing that we’ve missed our targets. It happens. In business, regardless of industry, things always don’t go as planned. Navigating shifting market conditions, competitive threats, and challenging internal circumstances can wreak havoc on even the most established and successful of organizations. Sometimes, we just don’t cross that finish line at the end of the year.
It’s not always easy to pinpoint the factors of failure. Individual self-reflection can be challenging; team self-reflection even more so. With a plethora of moving parts in an organization, homing in on the internal factors of failure takes substantial time and effort. And, so, teams naturally look outside of the organization when working to pinpoint what went wrong.
Pointing the finger externally is easy; teams do it without giving it a second thought. It’s far simpler to blame goal failure on difficult market conditions than on team culture or alignment. As a result, external factors often dominate year-end explanations and significantly inform new year strategies. Listen to the CEO update of mid-size to large organizations at the beginning of a fiscal year; you’ll often hear a strong focus on becoming more agile, incorporating design thinking, and improving market responsiveness as topic highlights. These efforts will no doubt facilitate the navigation of market conditions. They won’t, however, directly address the internal alignment issues that most organizations are facing.
According to recent research by Chris Zook of Bain and Company, only 40% of employees across organizations have any idea what the goals of their company are. 40%; that’s a staggering number. That means that 60% of the team is wandering around, investing effort moving in directions that aren’t contributing to the company focus. It’s no wonder organizations of all sizes keep missing their targets. If you don’t know which direction you’re supposed to move, how can you possibly keep in sync with your teammates in a way that contributes to organizational success?
Regardless of your industry or business area of focus, you’re running a relay race against your competitors at all times. Your team must venture down the track, pushing hard to keep ahead of other runners and maintain the shortest path possible from the starting block to the finish line. If you plan to win the race, you must leverage your speed, alignment, and synchronization.
Now, imagine that 3 out of 5 runners are unsure which direction to run, or which lane to run in. They meander across the race lanes, sometimes running backward instead of forward. If this occurred in an actual race, it would result in chaos. Yet, in the business environment, we brush it off as expected. More than half of our runners are wandering randomly all over the track yet leaders continue to focus blame on external market factors for the failure to achieve goals.
Correcting this problem requires a pivot to a more substantial focus on internal reflection. As individual performance assessments are completed each year, so to should team performance assessments that evaluate team dynamics, alignment, and culture. Many current team assessments evaluate only the achievement of key performance indicators which are often revenue and customer satisfaction focused. Teams must dig deep, collectively, to better understand the internal contributors to goal hits and misses. Only then will organizations truly uncover internal breakdowns such as lack of organizational goal understanding.
Moving to the Inside of the Track
Beyond understanding the goals of the organization, teams must be consistently analyzing the track to determine how to move into the shortest lane. While the journey to success is often riddled with meandering paths, the most successful teams are continuously analyzing market conditions to align their activities in ways that shorten the path to success. Why take the long road when you can take the short one? That shift requires insight and input from each runner on the team; they best understand the landscape and strengths that can be leveraged to gain a competitive edge.
If you’re concerned that your team may not be in sync on the race to the finish line, simply ask each team member to identify one key organizational goal in your next face-to-face meeting. If your team members can’t even list one, or look at your with a ‘deer-in-the-headlights’ stare, it’s probably time to put that external microscope away and start preparing some content and training that will get your team on the same page; only then will your runners even be running in the same direction. You can worry about implementing design thinking later.