Dear leaders, the common goal of your organisation is not as common as you think it is. And this is an ongoing problem.
Imagine you have been asked to participate in a brand new virtual reality gaming experience. At the start of the game you are introduced to the game storyline, your character, your attributes, support characters in the game, and ultimately your team’s mission. At the end of the mission you are promised a reward.
You start the game and all goes well. You and your team managed to do everything right and complete the mission. However, you are told the game is not over. You are told that to complete the game, you need to complete another mission. And yes, you get another reward.
Because you completed the first mission rather easily, you feel motivated that you can complete the next mission as well. You find that the next mission is more challenging, but after more effort and time, again you manage to complete the mission. Congratulations! You get another reward! You’re done with the game! (Or so you think).
As it turns out, again you are asked to complete another mission before you can exit the game. By now you are getting frustrated and may be wondering…”when is this going to end?”, or “what am I even doing actually?”, and maybe “what am I even doing this for?”.
Chances are, you may be struggling to remember the storyline for clues to your predicament, but due to the excitement, you barely paid attention and there seems to be no way to review the storyline.
Ok. You can stop imagining things now. The scenario I just shared has nothing to do with life as we know it. Or does it?
Actually, if you think about it, this scenario does seem familiar to work. You get a position in a company. During the on-boarding you are introduced to the company’s vision, mission, and values. You are brought up to speed on your role, what you are expected to deliver and how, and you are also introduced to your team. Your team is then given certain Key Performance Indicators to achieve together. You are told that if you achieve your KPIs, you get a salary/commission etc.
Earlier on, it seems doable and you strive to get things done. 2-3 months pass by and your team manages to achieve the given KPI! Congratulations! You and your team get their salaries/commissions.
But then after that you are told there’s more KPI to complete if you want to continue getting rewarded. Because you managed to achieve the previous month’s targets, you and your team feel motivated to achieve more. So you and your team strive to get more things done. Similar to the virtual reality gaming experience, the next set of KPI are more challenging. But through more effort and time, you and your team managed to achieve the given KPI. Congratulations again! You get rewarded yet again!
However, yet again, you are told there are more KPI to achieve before you can continue. By now you and your team are wondering, “when is this going to end?”, “what are we doing actually?”. And similarly, you and your team are wondering what the company’s vision and mission are. The only difference is, here you can review them easily. But even so, you don’t seem to understand it or relate to it because you don’t see how the work you have been doing is connected to the vision and mission. And you especially don’t see how this benefits you in the long run.
Now this may be an exaggeration of corporate work life. However, through our interactions with thousands of participants over the years, it is not too far-fetched. Employees often feel they are constantly pushed to do more but not knowing why. They share that they do manage to achieve a lot every quarter/year but they keep getting bigger and badder challenges without seeing an end in sight.
According to Gallup, up to 85% of the employee workforce are disengaged. Although there are many reasons for employee disengagement, most resources highlight a lack of purpose and sense of belonging as a major factor. We at D Jungle People know this for a fact because we often get corporate leaders lamenting how their people are not motivated, productivity is low, turnover is high etc. At the same time, we get access to the so-called people that the corporate leaders are lamenting about and we see the connection between the two.
To sustain business continuity and competitiveness, corporate leaders understand the need for change, continuous improvement, and growth. These are often shared at the beginning of a fiscal year. The announcements are received with much energy and enthusiasm across the board as it seems that everyone understands what needs to be done. Employees then get very busy. They work hard, but they very quickly get disoriented as they lose sight of why they are doing what they are doing. And this issue is happening everywhere.
So what can corporate leaders do to bridge this gap? We need to make the common goal common.
- occurring, found, or done often; prevalent.
- shared by, coming from, or done by two or more people, groups, or things.
(by Oxford Languages)
Now, let’s get back to imagining the virtual reality gaming experience. You and your team were left frustrated because there seemed to be no end in sight, there was uncertainty on what you were actually doing and why you were doing it. It was especially frustrating because there seemed to be no way to review the storyline to understand the game entirely.
But imagine now in the game there was a bright yellow box at the top right corner of your vision. In that yellow box wrote key objectives of each mission. On top of that, there was a supporting voice in the game that reminded you of how your actions link to the overall storyline. How would this affect your experience?
Similarly in work, employees need clear guides and reminders on what they are doing and why they are doing it. How their actions contribute to organisational goals which in turn translate to benefits to them must also be communicated. And all this must be done on a regular basis.
Based on our work with teams, leaders, and organisations, here are 3 focus areas that leaders can and should put more effort in to make the common goal more common.
Communicate clearly to all levels of the organisation. It has been said that if you can’t explain a concept to a 5 year old until they understand, you don’t understand it enough yourself. This highlights the differences in understanding for different audiences.
Explaining the concept of compound interest to a university graduate versus a primary school student will undoubtedly be very different. Similarly, conversations at senior management level will undoubtedly be different from conversations at operations level.
Key messages and examples must be thought through and customised to each level of the organisation. This is important so that the audience understands at their level of understanding. To help communicate with clarity, seeking direct and immediate feedback helps significantly.
Communicate what the connection is between the work and organisational goals. Include how organisational goals connect back to employees in the form of “what’s in it for them?”.
In our increasingly complex world, as a species we are more connected than ever, but as a society we are more disconnected than ever. This paradox comes with the abundance of information available that increasingly divides our diminishing attention.
Leaders need to help employees connect the dots in a way that is relevant and purposeful for them. Although finding meaning in work is each employee’s own responsibility, helping to create opportunities for meaningful work is within a leader’s influence.
The way the key messages are delivered at the beginning of a fiscal year should be the way they are delivered all year round, with energy and enthusiasm.
Together with quarter reviews, leaders need to consistently and regularly communicate the direction of the organisation.
Regardless of whether things are going according to plan, falling behind, or even totally changing due to circumstances, leaders need to be consistent in their communication.
Employees may not actively look to leaders for inspiration, but leaders for better or for worse set the tone for the organisation as a whole. Hence, the need to be consistent especially in communicating common goals.