October 21, 2013
It’s no secret organizational growth and transparency have an inverse relationship. As startups grow in size, your employees might find their goals growing more hazy. It’s trying to see the forest instead of the trees, and many workers will get swept up in the minutiae of everyday projects and lose sight of overall organizational goals. The result is poor goal alignment and lost productivity.
If larger goals aren’t connected to daily workflow, it’s hard to keep your startup’s most important objectives in sight. This leads to lack of alignment, especially as cascading goals veer off course down the organizational chart.
I experienced this goal decomposition myself during my time at Reuters. Even at the top, it’s hard to keep your goals in mind and understand how the work of the company contributes to achieving those goals. I actually wrote the organization’s six major goals on the back of my business card. I had to work to memorize these specific goals and keep them in mind. If this is true for upper management, imagine what it’s like for your workforce several levels below. Goals out of sight are quickly out of mind.
So how do you cut through the organizational telephone game and see what your people are actually doing? First you need to understand the hurdles to organizational transparency, and then you need to focus in on communicating and aligning goals.
The Transparency Equation
The first thing you need to do in order to start addressing your alignment problems is to understand how bad your issues really are. To figure out how and why goals were cascading in the wrong direction, I devised a formula to figure out my organization’s transparency.
The formula is T = CL/S, where C stands for the average span of control, L is the level of transparency, and S is the size of the organization. To give an example, let’s say you’re the CEO of a 10,000 person organization with an average span of control of 10, and a sight line to 3 levels below. Plugging these numbers into the formula, we’d find you only have transparency into about 10 percent of your organization. You can use this formula for your own company to see the extent of your transparency problem.
This level of transparency isn’t allowing you to see very much about what’s happening in your company, where human capital is being invested, or how goals are being achieved. Now that you know you have a transparency problem, however, you can begin to take steps to align your workforce with your organizational goals.
Five Levels To Find Out
In my experience, I began to use a method called “five levels to find out” in order to see what was happening within my organization. It’s no secret 90 percent of your people are always at the level furthest from your view. Yet you still need to connect with the people at the other end of your organizational chart if you have any hope of aligning strategic goals from top to bottom.
In the five levels to find out method, I would isolate employees five levels below myself and ask them about their experience. Did they understand the company goals? How was their work fitting into organizational objectives? Just like my business card crammed with company goals, I unsurprisingly found many of the employees farthest from view were confused about how their efforts fit into the big picture. I traced these employees all the way up the org chart to my direct reports and then sat down for some detailed conversations about driving alignment.
While five levels to find out is a great method for seeing what’s happening at your organization and connecting with employees far below your rung on the corporate ladder, it’s also a tough method to implement on a broader scale. It’s extremely time consuming and only gives you insight into a narrow swatch of your company. There needs to be a better way to see through from top to bottom at your organization.
Keep Your Goals Aligned
One of the best ways to achieve transparency is to focus on goal alignment. If everyone is working toward the same goals, you can be sure you understand what’s happening in your organization. Keeping sight of goals allows companies of all sizes to operate more effectively like lean small businesses with direct line of sight to employees.
For example, using a goal-based talent alignment platform can allow companies to quickly and efficiently check the status of their goals and keep larger organizational initiatives in view. Or maybe your organization just needs to be better at communicating goals to your whole staff and keeping them at the forefront of daily workflow. This means you need to communicate strategic goals more than once a quarter, and keep updated on the contributions of everyone in your organizational chart.
Engage Your Workforce
Goal alignment isn’t just useful for nosy CEOs who want to know what their workforce is up to. It’s also important for employees who want to know how their efforts contribute to larger organizational objectives.
Consider a recent study called “How Leaders Grow Today,” conducted by my company and Dale Carnegie, which found 43 percent of employees were familiar with the company’s strategic goals but in fact could not actually list them. A larger study by Gallup found a whopping 70 percent of employees are disengaged in the workforce. These numbers correlate, since employees who don’t understand how their work adds value to the company are more likely to mentally check out of the office.
Goal alignment helps your people put their work in context, thereby keeping employees engaged and reducing employee turnover. Focusing on goals tightens the communication gaps between the high levels in your organization and the individual contributor.
Keeping goals in view helps you get the transparency and insight into your company you need. This way you can throw away that little business card, get your people engaged and contributing meaningfully, and get back to work.
What do you think? How do you keep goal alignment at your company? Share in the comments!
Guest author Andre Lavoie is the CEO of Clear Company, the first talent alignment platform that bridges the gap between talent management and business strategy by contextualizing employees’ work around a company’s vision and goals. You can connect with him and the Clear Company team on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
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