A factory worker responsible for a manufacturing step rarely has to worry about how to define his job. Knowledge workers are in a different situation. The same knowledge worker can play many roles, from management consultant to customer support. Faced with unclear and shifting priorities, conflicting demands and endless distractions, they find themselves unable to “get focused.” This lack of focus has serious consequences.
The learning officer’s top job is to ensure that the organization’s key assets—its people—function at maximum effectiveness. One of the first principles of effectiveness is to begin with the end in mind. To ensure that workers understand the organizational “end in mind,” leaders must do five very practical things:
- Decide what their most important goals are.
- Clearly communicate those goals.
- Reward people for supporting those goals.
- Emphasize the key goals regularly.
- Make sure people understand what they are supposed to do to support those goals.
In a recent study by the Harris Poll and FranklinCovey (“xQ Assessment Report,” 2002, FranklinCovey Co.), more than 11,000 workers across 10 industries were asked if these five things happen in their organizations. Alarmingly, more than half indicated that these things do not happen where they work.
As Table 1 indicates, only 52 percent can say that their organizations have even decided what their most important goals are. And only around four in 10 feel that those goals have been clearly communicated and emphasized regularly. Obviously, people cannot execute goals they neither know nor understand.
Just as alarming is the low number of people who know what they individually must do to help achieve the goal—49 percent! Imagine a football team where only half the players know where the goal is and what their role is in getting there. How is it that half of the workforce is unaware of their organizations’ most crucial objectives?
Many leaders fail to separate the truly important from the “merely” important. Yet they must be reflective enough to do so.
Even where crucial objectives have been set, the workers who have to achieve them are the last to know, if they ever find out. In “Winning at Change” in Leader to Leader, a publication of The Drucker Foundation, John Kotter points out that most leaders under-communicate their vision by a factor of 10. Key goals must be communicated and progress tracked visibly and continually.
Finally, what are the prospects for executing key goals when only one in three workers feels that she gets any rewards or recognition for helping to achieve those key goals? What are the economic and psychological costs when only one in three workers feels that his contribution to achieving the organization’s goals is actually valued?
Leaders who succeed over time focus on a handful of core priorities. “A leader who says ‘I’ve got 10 priorities’ doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” said Ram Charan, the management consultant, in “Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done.” “He doesn’t know himself what the most important things are. You’ve got to have these few, clearly realistic goals and priorities, which will influence the overall performance of the company.”
Ultimately, the issue is execution. People must be focused on the organization’s key priorities. They must have a clear “end in mind,” or execution is at risk.
In upcoming columns, we’ll explore the issue of focus on key priorities, and how to educate the enterprise to execute those priorities.
Stephen R. Covey, Ph.D., is co-founder and vice chairman of FranklinCovey, a leading global professional services firm. Stephen is also the author of the best-selling “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” E-mail Stephen at firstname.lastname@example.org.