December 2, 2016 karynross

If You Can’t Explain It Simply…

Does it seem that your team is working on projects that aren’t getting you closer to where you need to be? That they don’t seem clear about your organization’s priorities, even though you’ve talked about them over and over again? Maybe you’ve even written a great vision and mission statement and posted it on your company website and around your office.

If your team members don’t seem to be working on priority work, maybe its because those priorities aren’t as clear to them as you think they are.

As a lean consultant and coach, and coauthor of The Toyota Way To Service Excellence: Lean Transformation in Service Organizations, I’m often asked to give coaching ‘tips and tricks’. In this post, I’m going to share an approach I often start with when asked to help an organization determine why priorities don’t seem to be clear to team members.

A simple exercise that I use to help leaders find out whether their team members clearly understand the priorities is to pick a team member – any team member – and ask them to state the organization’s vision and/mission statement – without looking it up somewhere – like the company intranet or poster displayed somewhere in the office. Most people can’t do it. This is often surprising to leaders, but it’s not to me. And here’s why. As human beings, we can only easily remember sequences of four to seven items. Yes, that’s four to seven words or numbers. And in my experience, when priorities are communicated to employees, they are in formats much longer than that with many words, and often, even more metrics. As our work world get more complex and we have more and more added to our plates, unless something is short and sweet, its not likely that we’re going to remember it, or make the space for it in our already overly cluttered brains.

Also, as Einstein so eloquently reminds us in the above quote, when things aren’t stated simply, it’s an indication that they aren’t really understood. If you are a leader, here’s an experiment you can do to see how clearly you really understand the priorities that you are communicating to your organization: State your organization’s purpose in ten to fifteen words or less. Then state the three metrics (yes, you can only choose three) that are most important for your organization to reach those priorities. Go ahead and give it a try. I think you’ll find that it’s not as easy as it looks. If you’re a leader in an organization today, chances are you are managing in a very complex environment. Customer needs are constantly changing, as is the market. Acquisitions and reorganizations only compound that complexity.

As a leader, its not easy to sort through it all and come to the very deep understanding of what your customers – and your company – really need. But it’s essential. Because if you, as the leader, don’t truly understand the priorities well enough to state them very simply, then you can be sure that you aren’t going to be able to communicate them in a way that’s simple, clear and concise enough so that each person in your organization is able to remember them. And if each person in your organization can’t remember them easily – easily enough to be able to repeat them when asked – how can you expect them to be able to prioritize the many different things they are asked to do each day?

When people come to work, they want to know that they are working on the things that satisfy customers and help their team, their organization and their company flourish, thrive and grow. They want to be part of something – engaged in something – ‘bigger than themselves’. It’s human nature. As organizations, and leaders, then, we need to make sure that those priorities are communicated simply and concisely in a format that’s easy everyone to remember.

So, if you find that your team isn’t working on the projects that are getting your organization closer to its goals, take a look at how you’re communicating your priorities. They simply might not be stately as clearly as you think.

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