Workplace Wisdom

The Connected Leader, Part IV: Making the Future Clear

Most people want to know how and where they fit into the various groups they’re affiliated with — and they really want to know where and how they’re supposed to fit in at work. They crave information about their organization’s future plans, and whether those plans create a good match for their own tasks, job, and career goals.

An integral and ongoing part of your job as a Connected Leader is to make the organization’s future clear to people, and to show them where and how they fit within that future — or to create the off-ramps that will lead them safely out of the organization.

Some employees may believe that they don’t need context, that they’ll be satisfied so long as they have definitive current direction: “Just tell me what you want me to do!” Most, though, will feel more connected if you give them both context and specifics.

We’re All In This Together

Even though you might think everyone knows — or everyone should know because you’ve already made several announcements — you still need to define, explain, broadcast, and discuss — over and over — what the organization stands for and what gives it meaning.

  • What is its purpose?
  • What are its goals, particularly as they pertain to customers and employees?
  • What makes you raise the organizational flag and wave its banner?

How will you know if these larger purposes are achieved? What are the goals and targets that will create a mutual sense of accomplishment?

You also need to convey the organization’s mutually held values.

  • What do we expect from each other about the ways we will work together?
  • How do we believe in treating each other?
  • How do we believe in treating our customers?
  • What are the norms we will not violate?

In addition, it’s important to provide frequent updates about the organizational structure and information flows. Try not to present them as rigidly fixed entities, but as adaptable arrangements that accommodate current responsibility for the necessary processes and outcomes. That way people will always know what’s going on a short-term, immediate basis: Who’s doing what with whom, company news and relevant current events, and data about company performance and whether it’s on plan.

Staying in Touch; Staying Together

To be credible, you need to convey all of these concepts both formally and informally. For example, the annual report and monthly newsletter are useful because they make clear what is official, but casual water cooler conversations, weekly group meetings, and daily debriefings have even more impact because they emphasize what is de facto important.

Your communications need to be specific enough that all employees can see how to hold discussions with their supervisors about what the near future will be, what the distant future will mean, and whether it’s worth sticking with the organization to attain — and obtain — those outcomes.

From time to time, each employee may need access to you directly to express their own curiosity, ask clarifying questions, and receive the personal answers that will help them manage their own expectations.

Similarly, although the general future trajectory needs to be reasonably identifiable — that market, those customers, this product grouping — it’s worth emphasizing that the organization will tack as a sailboat does, crisscrossing the arc of the trajectory in order to find the most favorable winds and waters, as well as account for healthy experimentation, innovation, and mistakes.

So the Connected Leader shows the way. That does not mean marching onward with nary a backward glance. When you point out what lies ahead and extend a fervent invitation for them to be an active part of the team, employees are encouraged to give their best and keep on giving it.

Can you provide an appropriate rallying cry? “Here’s where we’re going. Do you want to come? Do you want to help pick the future paths? Let’s go together!”

Onward and upward,

LK

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