Walt Disney had a vision of a place where children and parents could have fun together. First glimpsed on his television show, Disney’s vivid imagination and ability to share his dreams with others would bring the magical park to life. As he understood, “You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.”

For many of us, we’re so ready to get to work that we often forget the important step of clarifying our goals. We roll up our sleeves and jump right in. And perhaps that’s okay.

If there’s enough low-hanging fruit, leaders can likely escape this essential for a time. But eventually the symptoms will emerge – conflicting priorities and special projects, discontent or burned out team members, stalled progress.

If our teams reach that stage (or ideally, before), it’s time to regroup. It’s time to rethink our purpose and vision.
– Who do we serve?
– Why does our work matter?
– What values or qualities are essential to our work?
– What would happen if we didn’t show up and deliver?

Without clarity in the answers to those questions, it’s impossible to know what a “good job” is. Customers can’t have clarity in what to expect. And our teams can’t have clarity in how to deliver.

[Side note: I use mission and purpose mostly interchangeably. I think those are a succinct statement to describe the goal of the organization. For me, vision is more comprehensive. It includes elements of story and imagery to create a more detailed visualization of the goal.]

Perspective Helps

Few of us experience work environments free of pressure or stress. Today’s world is intense! One of the best ways to manage stress is to keep perspective as we encounter challenges. Clarity in our purpose and values helps guide our decision-making, particularly when a sacrifice is required.

Pretend we have a hotel with four options for guests to enjoy their meals, and it usually requires 20 team members for a successful shift. But today, there’s a terrible accident and only 15 team members can get to work. How do we navigate that? There’s no easy answer.

Let’s check our mission: to present an excellent performance so that guests create memories to last a lifetime. What’s our key value? Excellence. Okay, so that tells us to reduce the number of outlets open to ensure that each guest receives quality service.

Without the clear mission, it’s tough to know whether to close an option or just limp through the service period with poor service. Now the department leader wrestles with both the original problem and the fear of making the wrong decision. That’s compounded stress.

With clarity, the decision is made, and the team can move forward with serving guests.

If the CEO doesn’t have perspective and clarity, it’s likely none of the team does either. Their vision is inherently limited. No one can see farther than the leader.

At All Levels

There’s also a perception that this is only the work of the CEO or most senior leader. Certainly it is. And it’s equally important at every level.

Who does the accounting department serve? The maintenance department? What does success look like for each of those departments?

Particularly if those teams don’t serve our customers directly, it’s important to understand how their service enables other teams to carry out the mission. There’s two components to that understanding – initial clarity in the department’s purpose, and ensuring ongoing alignment over time.

My favorite resource for the initial exercise is Tom Peters’ ‘Reinventing Work: the Professional Service Firm 50.’ (And it’s finally available in Kindle – Yay!) The subtitle says it all: 50 ways to transform your department into a professional service firm whose trademarks are passion and innovation.

Once the purpose is clear, it’s just as key to keep alignment. The best tool we’ve found for that is Khorus.

By using quarterly goals that cascade throughout the organization, we can quickly see that supporting initiatives are critical. Or, we can see that multiple departments are focused on the same challenge from different perspectives – and that they’ll need to coordinate together.

For a hotel, one of the biggest challenges is keeping rooms at their best. Housekeeping certainly plays a role. As does facilities. And in our case, renovations are approved by each individual owner. Those multiple perspectives are easy to forget, especially when we’re focused. By always keeping goals linked, we have a built-in visual reminder.

(If you want more examples of how we used this, here’s our case study.)

Repeat and Tattoo

Maybe getting a tattoo is a bit extreme, but that’s how close we need to be to our visions. We must also find opportunities to repeat and reinforce the message. And we must recognize all of the noise that can get in the way.

For us, that’s twice daily Stand-Up meetings, weekly Leadership team meetings, and weekly All Hands meetings. To close the All Hands, we read our mission together. At first, it felt a bit corny, but now there’s multiple volunteers to lead each week.

(And as I’m writing this, I’m realizing we can do better on this one. If you have a great example, please share. I’d love new ideas!)

Decision Time

Once we’ve clarified the vision and are committed to reinforcing it with our actions and our words, we enable our team to make a key decision – whether they want to adopt the goal as well..

Certainly this is particularly helpful during the interview process, and it’s also relevant for existing team members. When the vision is this clear, team members understand that they must find a way to link their personal purposes to the company’s, or likely move on.

And that’s a good thing. They’re freed to find somewhere that would be a better fit. The company is freed from dealing with continuous discontent or frustration. If there’s an inherent conflict, it’s best to resolve it as soon as possible.

For example, one of our core values is “Keep getting better.” That usually requires extra training meetings and regular updates to our processes. For a person that isn’t comfortable with frequent change, we’re likely not a good fit. There’s no right or wrong, just conflicting values.

Clarity helps us both move forward.

photo credit: flickr/Rodrigo Martins