It is always satisfying at the end of the game to see my Green Bay Packers with the winning score. Every player knows, no matter how well they did individually, it does not matter unless the game ends in the win column. This same expectation is found in the performing arts as well. When the audience rises in ovation at the end of the show, the cast and crew know they have succeeded in delighting the audience with their work.
In business, the connection is not always clear cut. Sure profits are always good. Increase Sales are also always good. High customer service ratings are also always good. Best Product or Service Best Quality Awards are also always good.
Unlike a single game or performance, work is an ongoing process that never has a satisfactory conclusion. There is always more you can do the next day to change the score. However, like a game, there are times when you are losing (not meeting expectations), or there are times when you are winning (exceeding expectations). Near the end of each financial period, we tally, looking at the data whether we are successful or not. At the year’s end, we look even harder at the numbers squeezing every piece of information to achieve our objectives.
However, these defined objectives are hard to understand because they can seem arbitrary to the people on the front line. For instance, at one large corporation, I worked for our goal was to increase EBITDA by a certain percentage point each year. We use the traditional business formula to make this happen, cutting expenses and increasing sales. When we meet our goals the front office was happy; when we did not achieve our goals, they were unhappy. The staff on the front line felt the difference in numerous ways but had a hard time understanding how their work impacted the outcome.
However, there are successful companies that are transparent on how success is measured. In one company I know, they were bold and proud about what success was. In the manufacturing plant’s main hallway a sign was posted defining success.
We win when:
- There are zero safety or security issues or violations.
- Our values remain intact
- We produce ### of widgets at a rate of 96% Quality Perfection Rate
- Keep waste to 1% of the run – the aim is zero. (It is our Planet, after all)
- We hug our families today
At the end of each shift, the General Manager would record how well they did on each with the exception of #2. The #2 tally was given to an employee chosen at random who privately handed his score into the General Manager. Because it was more subjective, it was always interesting to see how the score varied day to day. No matter, the general manager always addressed the score and talked to the shifts about it. Good or bad.
The employees at this manufacturing plant knew when they had succeeded; they also knew they would have an avenue to discuss challenges that kept them from being successful at the end of the day.
Unfortunately, this is not the case for most employees. The information necessary for an employee to understand if the team has been successful is too far removed, i.e. the percentage change in EBITDA or too vague, good customer service values, to have any impact. Every manager needs to communicate clearly, consistently and continuously how the individual is successful, how the department is successful, and how the business is successful.
In one case, one of my colleagues had a new role and started working on what success looked and felt like for one of the positions within his team. He did this first my understanding the position through interviewing and shadowing the employees. After a period, he narrowed the definition of what success looked and felt like to his team. He presented this to his team and then listened to their feedback and made adjustments he thought made sense.
He started tracking success for each shift and each employee. The employees knew when there were and when they were not meeting this new definition of success. In time all his employees were exceeding his expectations, so he raised the requirements slightly to challenge the employees. Moreover, again his employees rose to the challenge. Some struggled at first but he paired them with more successful employees, and they too raised to this new level of excellence. However, what he was must proud of was during this whole period, was that his employee engagement scores continued to rise. He contributed this to working with the employees to set the expectations and to the communication of the results on a consistent basis to his team. They knew they were winners.
Does your team know if they are winning?