Orient – the direction in which the sun rises, the day “sees its light”. The term “orientation”, or “to orient oneself”, comes from the historical representation, where maps were often aligned with Jerusalem = above.
Providing orientation is one of the most critical leadership tasks – giving employees a “light”, an image, a purpose for which they come to work in the company daily. The question is: how do I ensure this orientation at all levels?
Orientation starts at the top (see Jerusalem).
James C. Collins and Jerry I. Porras, two American professors, investigated why some companies are more successful in the long run, i.e. over 50 years than others. What these companies have in common is a clear vision with three key elements:
The first element of their vision is a set of values that are shared and supported by the whole company. These are not “nice-to-have” values but values that are upheld in everything that is done in the company. Usually, there are three to five core values that do not change. They are in some way part of the spirit of the company.
The core purpose is the essential raison d’être of a company. It should not be confused with current product lines or customer segments. These may change over the years, but the purpose remains permanent.
Being financially successful is an essential condition that every company must achieve. This goes beyond making money and being financially successful. It refers to the particular motivation of the employees to work for this company.
A picture of the future
A picture of the future has two components: a set of very challenging goals (BIHAGS = Big Hairy Audacious Goals) that usually require 10 to 30 years of work. These goals are not a continuation of the present; they express what people want to have achieved in 10, 20 or 30 years.
The goals do not have to be adapted to the current situation/situation of the company and the current resources. An essential aspect of a vision is mobilising new forces and energies that were not yet visible.
What is needed at the same time is a vivid description, a lively, bright picture of what these long-term goals will look like in 10, 20, or 30 years and what they will feel like when they have been achieved. This makes the goals stimulating, appealing and tangible.
Note: While Collins and Porras assumed a timeframe of 10-30 years for the picture of the future in the 1990s, these parameters have changed in the meantime due to macroeconomic changes (globalisation, fast-moving economies, etc.) and the BIHAGS now work with a timeframe of 5-10 years.
Do all your employees know the company’s vision? And by “know” I don’t mean that values and core purpose hang framed in every hallway or meeting room. But rather: How do your managers deal with the corporate vision in their day-to-day management? How are goals agreed upon and achieved?
At Coverdale, we define goals using the Coverdale Goal Disc. This contains four areas:
1. Customer: who are we doing this for?
2. Purpose: Why are we doing this?
3. End result: What should be achieved by when?
4. Standards/criteria: How do we measure the end result?
In addition to motivating target agreements, it is above all the way we deal with each other that provides orientation daily. As long as everything runs “smoothly”, this does not pose a challenge: Goals are achieved, the company is doing well economically, and “those up there” are not putting any pressure on us.
Things get serious when we look at the error and feedback culture in the company. How are mistakes addressed? Does the manager first look for someone to blame? How do we prevent the error from happening again?
At Coverdale, apart from outcome review (does the product fulfil the purpose for the client along the defined criteria?), we regularly conduct process reviews:
1. what did we experience as helpful in the collaboration?
2. what did we experience as hindering in the collaboration?
3. agreements: What will we keep, strengthen or no longer do next time?
After the next assignment/project, the agreements are looked at in the process flashback to see to what extent they have been adhered to or need to be adapted/amended. Carried out regularly, these process reviews take little time and initiate a continuous process of learning and improvement.
According to the old but still valid saying, “I cannot demand of my employees what I am not prepared to achieve myself”, it is up to the managers to exemplify the company’s purpose and, above all, its core values every day anew.
Suppose managers work continuously on the principles of attention, respect and trust from the beginning and thus give their employees a clear orientation. In that case, they will get the required performance even in difficult times. Or, to put it another way: managers do not have to attend expensive employee motivation training courses; it is quite enough if they do not demotivate their employees.
At the end of this article, of course, comes to the heretical question: Do you, as a manager or employee, have the orientation you need in your work? If not – what does it take for you to have a bright, clear picture of your company and thus of your contribution to it?
If you need support, contact us. We are happy to walk this path together with you.