Mining the collective ambition

It’s the responsibility of leaders to ensure people have goals – at the personal, team and organisational level. Without goals our work life becomes a challenging routine, or worse, a grind. And when we find ourselves in the hull of the boat, pulling an oar all day with no idea of where we are going, then our motivation goes down as fast as our dissatisfaction goes up.

Some leaders find goal-setting hard work.  They feel if they set a goal too low, people will moderate their effort to that level, and the opportunity for excellence can fade away.  Or if they set a goal too high, it will burn people off and become counter-productive.

But there’s some good news.  As a leader you don’t have to do all the work.  Yes, you have to ensure goals are set, and people are organised and supported to achieve them, but you don’t have to create a goal out of thin air and hope it galvanises people.

We are often asked to facilitate goal-setting sessions with organisations.  Sometimes the senior leadership team will set the goals without formal input from staff and then communicate and promote the goals.  This can be time efficient but the downside is that the goals don’t benefit from being informed by the wisdom and ambition of staff.

When we do facilitate sessions where staff input is canvassed, we almost always find the ideas coming from staff are more ambitious than the leaders expected – and often more ambitious than the leaders’ own ideas. The sessions are usually very energised, even rowdy, and very positive.  To the surprise of some, it turns out that people want their organisations to succeed and to have a say in what that success should be!  Tapping the collective ambition is a smart thing for a leader to do.

It’s important to have a process that allows the introverts and less vocal staff to have their voice heard.  We use a variety of processes and technique to ensure everyone gets an opportunity to contribute and “no idea is left behind”. It’s great to see the shy person from accounts’ getting animated about an idea for the organisation!

After harvesting ideas, the process moves into ‘management’ mode.  This involves creating criteria filters that ideas need to pass through if they are to move through to the next round of consideration.  Leaders generally have a broader and deeper understanding of organisational and operational issues than staff, so they have an important role in helping define what these filters should be.

A word of caution – it’s important at the beginning of any consultation process to be clear about who will make the final decision.  Is everyone going to provide input and have a say in the final goals, or is the final decision down to you as the leader? Neither approach is right or wrong, but to manage peoples’ expectations you need to be clear about the decision making process from the outset.

By engaging people in an exciting dialogue about the future you can gain great new thinking and deeper commitment.

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