Finding Your 'True North': How to Align Your Employees With Your Company's Goals
How can companies maximize output if they're clueless as to how individual employees are doing?
The Rolls-Royce brand is synonymous with top-of-the-line engineering -- but that’s not the only secret to its success. Neil Crockett, chief digital officer at Rolls-Royce, recently revealed to U.K. newspaper The Telegraph that shared team goals are driving innovation at the company. By eliminating outdated hierarchies, he said, the automaker has seen improved collaboration and enhanced its reputation for luxury and quality.
The hierarchical shift is one many companies will need to make if they hope to stay competitive. A BetterWorks-sponsored Harvard Business Review report found that 70 percent of workers surveyed believed that a lack of alignment prevented them from fulfilling company goals.
Despite having incredibly intelligent leaders at the helm, businesses often struggle because their team members aren’t working together.
This is a particular problem for startup environments, whose employees juggle many priorities at once. Opportunities for distraction abound, as everyone races to get as much done in as little time as possible; conflicting priorities are inevitable.
That’s when shared goals become essential. The only way to resolve those conflicts among busy employees is to ask, “Which project serves the overarching mission?”
And when you're trying to mitigate those issues in advance, your best strategy is to align every initiative with your company’s "true north." That way, all employees, from the executive-management level down, become part of a cohesive strategy.
Orienting the team to your company's true north
When entry-level employees join an organization, they may feel overwhelmed by the company’s goals. Tens or hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue sounds like an enormous sum to someone who has never worked for a business of that magnitude and has no idea how any business could possibly reach that number.
But, if there’s a clear plan for how the organization will achieve that goal, and the new employee sees how his or her role contributes, the work will seem less daunting, and even exciting.
That's why companies have applied themselves to aligning employees with their true north. GroundFloor Media in Denver, for example, reinforces its team's cohesiveness by posting stories of employee wins on its website with a bio outlining how a particular employee helped achieve the company vision.
Showcasing individual contributions in this way proves that each team member adds value, and it encourages people to excel.
Use the following tactics to align your own team’s efforts with the vision you’re trying to achieve:
1. Implement a three-step, goal-centric planning process.
Most organizations schedule "state of the union" type meetings, but these discussions focus on the here and now. This then becomes a missed opportunity.
At your company, always tie your current goals to long-term visions of how the organization will grow over the course of the next one to three years. Be sure to emphasize each department’s -- and team member’s -- role in concrete ways, as well.
At our company, we follow a simple three-step process: First, create and share quarterly goals with the team. We invite the entire company to our quarterly performance and planning meeting. These three-hour sessions include reflections on our wins and missteps from the previous quarter, and a rundown of which projects were completed, which were outstanding and how we can use our lessons learned to reach our goals for the next quarter.
Along the way, we identify "anchor" projects for each quarter so there is absolutely no doubt where our "true north" lies. Step two is planning our monthly goals, which stem from those quarterly meetings and ensure that everyone is clear on what we’re trying to achieve. The third step is the "check-in" -- managers are encouraged to have one-on-one weekly meetings in which they discuss short-term goals with each employee.
No matter what their function or seniority, employees must be working on projects related to monthly goals; otherwise, they'll be misaligned with "true north." Checking in and reiterating the goals is a critical step toward successful execution.
Together, the Harvard Business Review and BetterWorks found, through their study, that less than half of all companies surveyed measured employee progress toward a goal. How can people feel motivated if they don’t know whether they’re performing well? More importantly, how can companies maximize output if they’re clueless as to how individual employees are doing?
2. Give teammates access to check in on company goals.
For employees, understanding the business's goals is only half of the process. People need to know whether they’re generating results and meeting their own key performance objectives. So, regularly update team members on the status of company initiatives. A company's ability to lay out specific goals and hold employees accountable to them is one of the top factors in outstanding financial outcomes, according to Deloitte.
Consider creating a goal score sheet where team members can check your organization’s progress at any time. Not only will this keep goals top of mind, but it will help employees prioritize their own duties and functions based on which areas require more effort at different times.
At YieldStreet, we maintain a color-coded document detailing our quarterly plans. Any one of our team members can review the current or previous month’s plan to check our status. "Green" items are those that have been completed successfully; "orange" means they’re under way; and "red' indicates that a project has been delayed, paused or never executed.
I know a CEO at another startup who used to read aloud at each quarterly meeting all of the individual accountability items. The person responsible for each would then announce whether the tasks had been done or not.
This made the meetings lengthier but extremely effective. People who had to call out “not done” regarding their goals from the previous quarter were motivated to make up for lapse ahead of the next meeting.
3. Be honest about why your company fell short of its goals.
When you’re asking employees to be publicly accountable for meeting their goals, you, as their leader, should do the same for them. If the company doesn’t meet its overall goals one quarter, own up to it.
To illustrate, when Tesla fell short of its vehicle production goals in 2016, CEO Elon Musk acknowledged that the company’s hubris had played a role in the delays. The Tesla team listed specific, causative problems, as well, like problems with suppliers, but everyone took his or her fair share of the ultimate culpability for the issues, rather than pointing fingers.
Of course there's a caveat here: No matter how diligent its teams, no organization hits 100 percent of its goals 100 percent of the time. It’s important, then, to own those failures and explain them to employees. Speak openly about what went wrong and how the company could have done things differently.
Admitting fault is uncomfortable, but it’s vital to your business’s growth, because that admittal demonstrates character, which you need, to retain both employees’ and investors’ confidence.
Clarity of focus is a critical element of any team’s success. The way to establish it is to put a stake in the ground and define your company’s true north. Incorporating public sharing aspects into your meetings will also inspire your employees to devise strategies for success.
When every initiative, task and responsibility flows from the same shared set of goals, teammates start to move in the same direction -- one that leads more quickly to your company’s desired destination.