The Fog of Work: Why the Why is important for top performers.

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I recently posted on the Mercury 11 Blog about the Fog of Work and the importance of having a clear why.  There are over 100,000 CEOs in the U.S. who lead companies with 100 or more employees.   At 100 employees, it is nearly impossible to effectively motivate and lead an organization in this agile, fast-paced world without a clear purpose and an even clearer communication of CEO intent.

The military has known for years that clear communication of leadership intention is more important than specific plans and detailed directions.   Yet, most of the 100,000 CEOs (according to Gallop’s research written about in 12: The elements in great managing), are not translating where they really want to take an organization in ways that engage the hearts and minds of the employees doing the work.  As a result, employee engagement, workplace productivity, and company loyalty suffers.

Benefits of clear intention.

There are so many benefits to intention-based communication and transparency that I could write a book on just that topic alone:

  • When employees understand intention, they can make better judgement calls on the front line, at the speed of the problem.
  • When employees understand intention, they can find solutions working above the problem than being confined within the problem.
  • When employees understand intention, they can see setbacks as temporary and keep energy at a higher level.

The above three alone have been proven to drive down costs, increase top-line growth, and reduce attrition.

So why do some CEOs struggle in clarifying their intentions?

There are three fundamental reasons why it is difficult for a CEO to make the connection:

First, a CEO might not actually have a clear vision for where to take the company into the future.  With the increased complexity created by technology  coupled with a stagnate economy, it is not easy to know which strategy will be the best choice for lifting top-line growth while maintaining healthy margins. So the default approach is to double down on cost control or adopt the philosophy “no vision is better than a wrong vision.”

Second, A CEO’s intention may not be all that inspiring for the organization if openly communicated.  I had lunch this past week with a strong top performer of a CPG company who told me it was super clear his division was being harvested for cash to support the CEO’s desire for acquisition in other business sectors.  While his CEO never said those words specifically, the organizational leaders had created a pretty strong case for why that narrative was true.  The thinking of course is, “it’s  better to live with a disengaged workforce and harvest cash then come clean with what is true.”

Third, a CEO’s intention might be too personal and not all that flattering if exposed to the troops.  I’ve met more than a few CEOs who were faced with tough growth challenges but were too afraid of the risk of failure to take a bold move.  Better,in the CEO’s mind, to shift the risk to the next guy or gal and finish without a failure on their watch. Hit the bonus, finish the contract, take the pay, but don’t take any personal risk.

So that leaves some choices for the average worker.   You can ride it out and join the crowd of the disengaged.  Or, you can switch jobs and join the growing ranks of emerging companies who get it.  Most top performers are the first movers to leave when the organization fails to provide clear purpose and intention.  If you do take the plunge, make sure make it a priority to find out if the new company you want to join is  crystal clear about top intention and purpose.



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