Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Mission Control

On the surface, 'purpose' and 'goal' seem to be similar, if not synonymous, terms. But in parsing the definitions, we discover they're very different concepts.

- Goals are specific objectives we strive to achieve, usually within defined parameters of space, time and resources.

- Purpose is the 'why' behind any thought or deed. Purpose is not about achieving a goal--it's more of a way of life. Purpose is enduring, whereas goals can be created, adjusted and discarded.

You can see the variation between purpose and goals in what you do at work. Goals can be the targets you set regarding the recruitment, retention, development, and progression of your workforce. Purpose should be what the goals serve. You set targets to achieve a greater overarching aim, one that benefits all stakeholders. For instance, you wouldn't bring in 1,000 employees just to grow your workforce; but you might bring in 1,000 employees to ensure the success of a new growth opportunity.

We often confuse our goals with our purpose. For example, I once taught a leadership development session for executives and their spouses or partners. In the session, executives learned that their partners often felt ignored or put in 'second place' compared with work. Many executives had clearly let their goal (make a lot of money) become more important than their purpose (create a great life for themselves and their families).

The distinction between a goal and purpose can be lost on managers. For example, a friend of mine left consulting to become the VP of HR for a corporation.

He reviewed a study of their employee benefits and found some were costing the company millions of dollars and delivering little that the employees valued. When he suggested cutting the benefits to save money, he was told he was 'confused.' His boss noted that cutting these benefits would mean a smaller budget and less power for the HR department. In building their empires, they had forgotten about making a ROI for their stockholders.

Company purpose should come before departmental goals. Yet many leaders become fixated on goals in their struggle to meet tight deadlines with finite resources. The solution is simple, but not easy. It requires honest, perhaps painful, reflection. Review your goals and ask: 'What goals are consuming my time and energy and the company's resources?' Rank your goals in terms of cost to achieve. Then rank your goals in terms of contribution to purpose. When you find clear discrepancies, you need to step back and realign your goals with your purpose-- doing what really matters (and stop doing what doesn't matter).

Stop in the Name of Leadership
Once I heard Peter Drucker say: 'We teach leaders what to do. We don't teach leaders what to stop. Half the leaders I meet don't need to learn what to do.

They need to learn what to stop.' Have you ever attended a training session entitled Stupid Things We're Doing That We Need to Stop Doing? Or, has your CEO ever discussed his negative traits and his efforts to stop destructive behavior? Can you even imagine your leader admitting a fault and outlining his aim to stop doing it? Probably not. Leadership behaviors are designed to demonstrate a commitment to positive action--we will start listening to our customers (rather than stop talking about ourselves). Recognition and reward systems are designed to give credit for doing something good--not for ceasing to do something bad. Yet, they are two different sides of the same coin.

Think of times you've seen colleagues go on a sales call, return with an order, and regale anyone who'll listen with a blow-by-blow account of how they closed the deal. But what if, during that sales call, they crunched some numbers and realized they were about to agree to a deal that cost the company money? What if they decided to stop negotiating and say 'no' to the deal? Would they rush back to the office and brag about the bad deal they avoided? Hardly. Avoiding mistakes is an unseen, unheralded achievement, and yet, averting a bad deal or bad hire can affect the bottom line more than scoring a big sale. Stopping negative behaviors and actions gets no attention, but it can be as critical as anything you do.

As you evaluate your performance, consider the impact of what you are not--or should not be--doing.

Sharing Is Caring
Communication breakdowns hinder operations. Why do these lapses happen? How they can be avoided? Today, knowledge is power, which makes withholding key data very counterproductive.

Suppressing vital information lowers value. This becomes a big problem whenever people take their competitive nature too far. It's the same old need to win, only more underhanded. People take the phrase 'knowledge is power' too literally, thinking the object of the game is to hoard as much information as possible.

The problem with willfully withholding information, though, is it rarely achieves the desired effect. You might think you're gaining an edge and consolidating power, but you're breeding mistrust and disdain. To have real power, you need to inspire loyalty rather than fear and suspicion.

Often we withhold information in unintentional or accidental ways-- when we're too busy to get back to people with information they need, when we forget to include someone in our discussions or meetings, or when we delegate a task but don't show or explain to people exactly how we want the task done. If you don't see why any of that annoys people, reflect on how you feel when no one tells you about a meeting, sends you an important e-mail or memo, or makes you the last person to know about something.

Usually, we don't withhold information out of malice; rather, we do it because we're clueless (but the impact on people who are affected is similar).

Have the Courage to Ask
Peter Drucker once observed, 'The leader of the past knew how to tell; the leader of the future will know how to ask.' If you manage knowledge workers --people who know more about what they're doing than you do--you know that it is hard to tell them what to do and how to do it! You need to ask, listen, and learn from everyone around you. As Peter stated: 'Start by asking the question, 'What needs to be done?'' Leaders who ask co-workers to provide suggestions, listen to them, learn from them, and follow-up are seen as becoming more effective. Also, external customer satisfaction goes up when customer service reps ask, listen, learn, and follow-up. When people ask you for your input, listen to you, try to learn from you and follow-up to see if they are getting better, your relationship with them invariably improves.

So, why don't leaders ask? One reason is our inflated ego. When I ask leaders to rate themselves relative to their peers, about 60 percent of them rank themselves in the top 10 percent; almost 85 percent say they are in the top 20 percent; and over 98 percent claim to be in the top half! Their performance has little to do with their self-assessment! When you become successful, you are often delusional about the reasons for your success. You tend to attribute good results to your own motivation and ability and tend to attribute poor results to environmental factors, bad luck, or random chance. When you over-rate your performance, you can easily justify not asking others for input.

A second reason why leaders don't ask is fear. Once I asked a VP of Customer Satisfaction, 'Should you be asking your key customers for feedback?' 'Of course!' he said. 'Then, why don't you do it?' He admitted, 'Because I am afraid of the answer.' As a leader, start asking key coworkers: 'What needs to be done?' Thank them for their input, listen to them, learn as much as you can, incorporate the ideas that make the most sense, and follow-up to ensure that real, positive change is occurring.

Ask, listen, and learn from everyone around you. You can learn more about what you most need to know from your key stakeholders than you can from consultants. Also, ask the people whom you love how you can be a better partner, friend, or parent. Listen to their ideas. Don't get so busy with work that you ignore the most important people in your life. To improve your relationships, you need to ask for people's opinions and then follow up and do something about what you learn.

Life is good.

Marshall

My newest book, MOJO, is a New York Times (advice), Wall Street Journal (business), USAToday (money) and Publisher's Weekly (non-fiction) best seller. It is now available online and at major bookstores.

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