Why are you, and those around you, working so hard?

I am constantly amazed at how many of the organisations I talk to aren’t clear about what they are trying to achieve. Even those who are clear have traded ambition for clarity by focusing on short term incremental targets for this month or this year.

I recently asked a client of mine where their three year profit goal had come from. The finance director, with commendable honestly, told me that he’d made it up! Knowing the growth that needed to be achieved he had put a number in a report to the group centre to satisfy the return on assets. The MD was happy to agree and the rest of the team had no idea where the figure had come from – or why it should be at that level.

Leadership seems to have become about ‘hitting the numbers’. An inordinate amount of time is spent negotiating targets with those who support the organisation financially so that final numbers are chosen which the leadership team is confident of hitting.

This locks the entire organisation into incremental thinking, so that every problem is examined from the perspective of whether it can be solved to give a small percentage rise over last year. More profound solutions are not examined, or are dismissed as too risky leaving underlying problems unresolved.

Consequently everyone in the organisation feels like they are running on a hamster wheel. Because the underlying problems remain, everyone has to work harder to deliver the small incremental gains knowing that next year there will be the same – but with slightly higher targets again.

Nobody comes to work committed and passionate about meeting a financial target. Even less so one that is the result of arbitrary or compromised thinking.

Ambition Conversations

Few leadership teams talk together about what they truly want to achieve for the organisation – and why. Without a clear and profound purpose, the job of leadership is just hard work.

All organisations need targets, budgets and annual plans – but these are not the same as an ambition. They aren’t solely enough to generate the sorts of changes – both organisationally and personally – that are required to genuinely move the organisation forward. Much time has been wasted by many leaders in away days thrashing out empty ‘mission’ and ‘vision’ statements that provoke cynicism amongst thsatioose they are intended to inspire.

Our research shows that leadership teams which talk together about what they are aiming for are the ones that generate truly exceptional results. In our Six Conversations Leadership Programme we call them Ambition Conversations.

What do you really, truly want?

Ambition conversations start with each member of the leadership team articulating the legacy that they want to leave behind. Such conversations help remind them and explain to those around them why they are making the huge commitments that every leadership role entails. In doing so, they bring forward and harness the deepest motivations of each leader.

Through such conversations many different pictures of a successful future emerge. Often, there are more common threads than the team expected therefore assembling them into a clear and compelling shared goal is comparatively quick and easy. Where common threads don’t appear further work and discussion are required to generate it together.

Either way, the team emerges from Ambition Conversations with:

  • A new set of criteria to apply to decision making so that the day to day focus is complemented by an awareness of what it will take to transform the organisation and it’s results
  • Renewed motivation and vigour for the fray
  • Clear and compelling messages to take to the rest of the organisation
  • More understanding, deeper trust and stronger alignment.

An unreasonable ambition

When we facilitated an Ambition Conversation for the first time with an industrial client, some surprising and powerful insights emerged.

The plant in question had historically been the hub of the community. For decades had provided employment and financial security for local families; it was the economic engine that drove most local businesses. Over the years, progressive job cuts reduced it’s importance to a pale shadow of its heyday.

What emerged was that the team wanted to restore its place as the hub of its community. As the conversation unfolded, excitement grew; with the excitement came ideas.

To generate the levels of employment required to do this would require new levels of financial performance and this, in turn would need much improved processes and customer performance. A powerful new consensus formed about the destination for the business that represented three times the growth in their existing plans.

The new plan addressed many of the underlying issues that had been hampering the plant for years but which the annual ‘last year plus %’ budgeting cycles did not resolve.

An excited, engaged and aligned team emerged from the room that day. Although they had a communication message, the real difference was in in their renewed hope and shared commitment which was reflected in how they spoke about it.

Progress towards the new ambition has been impressive. The previous goals have already been achieved – much faster than originally planned. Many challenges remain but the determination to overcome them is clear and undimmed.

And you? …

Why are you working so hard? What would make your tenure in your current role worth the vast commitment of your energy, resources and time? Do you know the answers to these questions for each of the other members of your team?

Imagine how much energy and creativity would be unleashed if you did. What sort of impact might this might have on your results?

If you think you may need more help, more quickly then please make contact by email or phone us on 0845 519 7871.