We think of ValueGroove as the rhythm section of the organization, providing a steady, energizing backbeat or groove, that allows people to improvise and be creative, while assuring that their individual contributions come together as beautiful music.
When done right, a process like ValueGroove can be empowering, liberating, motivating. If customers see that a company is really striving to deliver great value, they become passionate advocates for the company. If employees believe that they are doing high quality work that customers value, that they are building skills that will advance their careers, that they have a say in setting and achieving their own goals, and that they are being treated with respect, their productivity and loyalty will soar.
When done wrong, a management and goals process can have the opposite effect, alienating customers with products aimed primarily at boosting short-term profits, and alienating employees by treating them as means to an end.
With that in mind, we would like to review the positive and negative aspects of management and goals processes, and to explain how ValueGroove is designed to focus on the positives and minimize the negatives.
Why people and organizations like to set goals and manage toward them
The most successful people and organizations set clear goals and work systematically to achieve them. Having well defined goals and a disciplined process for making them happen has several benefits:
- Everyone knows where the organization is going, and what the priorities are, and can align their efforts accordingly.
- Individuals and departments can better maintain their focus, working proactively to achieve their goals, versus reactively in response to the usual chaos. (In many organizations, especially small to mid-size ones, there is a perpetual sense of crisis—the building is always on fire. While there will always be surprises popping up, most organizational chaos is self-inflicted. Management typically are the chief arsonists and fire-fighters).
- Goals accelerate learning. A strategy, along with clear goals and milestones, is really a theory about how the organization can add value and be successful. Every time you achieve a goal or reach a milestone—and every time you fail to do either—you have an opportunity to adjust your strategy and make course adjustments. If you have no real value creation strategy, and if you don’t set clear goals and milestones, it is very difficult to learn. Organizations in this situation make numerous course corrections, but end up going in circles.
- The organization can systematically add new capabilities and new customer solutions, in effect, creating its own future while also delivering results in the present.
- People can more easily hold themselves and one-another accountable for creating real value.
Why people and organizations hate to set goals and manage toward them
- Many people fear that a goals process will primarily be used to judge them, to force them to behave in a certain way—to limit their freedom. Especially in small to mid-sized organizations, many managers (especially entrepreneurs!) instinctively reject anything that smells like “control.” In many cases they left large organizations in order to enjoy more personal freedom and autonomy.
- Clear goals may trigger an individual’s fear of failure.
- Many people view goal setting and planning as inherently bureaucratic, a painful waste of time.
- Many people view goals and planning as useful—in theory—but believe they will never be able to devote the time and energy required to establish and maintain a sustainable goals process.
- Many employees believe that a goals process will not benefit them personally. It may benefit their managers, or the shareholders, but it is more work for employees, more accountability and exposure, with no corresponding benefits—it’s their pain and other people’s gain.
How to get the benefits of value management and goals, while avoiding the negatives
The reasons that people like planning and goals, and the reasons they hate planning and goals, all have the ring of truth. The key to a successful, sustainable management and goals process is to eliminate as many of the de-motivators as possible, and to leverage the positive, motivating aspects of such a process. Here are some basic rules of thumb for achieving this.
1. Focus on learning and value creation
The purpose of the process is to help organizations and individuals to learn, grow, and to be more successful. The process should be empowering both to individual employees and to managers. While the process does help everyone to be more accountable—to themselves, to their teams, to the people they report to and the people who report to them—the emphasis should absolutely not be about control or keeping score. Nothing will kill the process faster than making it feel coercive and imposed from above—a series of painful trips to the principal’s office. If the process starts to be about control, coercion, blame, etc., it will become a value destroyer! All of those negative associations create fear, and as Edwards Deming pointed out, fear in the workplace makes honest discussion and learning impossible.
Learning and innovation require multiple failures along the path. That’s how you learn. Some companies (including innovation master 3M) attempt to counter individuals’ fear of failure by celebrating intelligent failures.
2. Keep it simple and productive
The planning and goals process should be as simple (and non-bureaucratic) as possible—with just enough structure to be effective. This has been a primary design criteria of the VMP. For example, we have tried to take much of the time and pain out of planning by providing relatively simple online forms that teams and individuals can use to define and track their goals.
Note: If your team finds some aspect of the process unnecessarily boring, time-consuming or painful, we encourage you to figure out a better way, and then share it with us so we can improve the process. Or, please contact us and we’ll help you figure out how to make the process work better for you.
3. Keep it flexible
There is no one best way to use the process. In our experience, each person will prefer to use the process in a different manner (within reason), reflecting his preferred working and learning style. People who are detail-oriented will add more specific information to their plans, while others will work with the minimum amount of information. When in doubt, individuals should simply use their own judgment, focusing on the purpose of the process, not the “letter of the law.” Each person should try to tailor their use of the process so that: 1) it helps her to plan, to execute consistently and to learn; and 2) the process feels like a productive tool that is energizing to use.
4. Use the process to empower and motivate individuals
Each manager or employee who participates in the ValueGroove Management Process should participate in the development of his own goals. The goals process should be a vehicle for individuals to take greater control of their own work lives. The goals should be designed so that, as an individual is achieving her goals and making the team and the company more successful, she is also achieving her personal goals for professional development, increased income, more work-life flexibility, etc. Clear goals will also help an individual to push back, in a positive manner, when a shoot-from-the-hip manager wants to set new priorities every week (a source of great frustration to employees who are trying to stay focused.) For example, the employee can ask how the latest fire drill is related to the team’s goals, or can ask which existing goal is to be dropped in order to free up time and resources for the new one.
Everyone who participates in the process must benefit directly from her participation. That will provide powerful motivation, and make the process self-sustaining.
5. Align culture and leadership with the process
It is critical that senior managers buy into and follow the process, and that they model the critical enabling values (focusing on learning, driving out fear, honest discussion of difficult issues, treating everyone with respect, making value creation the top priority, etc.). If managers are inconsistent in adhering to these values, and especially if they act arbitrarily in their own personal and political self-interests, the process will fall apart quickly. If someone won’t buy in to the process, they must be helped to find employment elsewhere.
For a team or organization to achieve its potential, everyone must be accountable. Given the right, win/win culture, the right employees will embrace accountability, and will insist that fellow employees and management be accountable as well.
If you would like to discuss our process solutions, please contact us.
For more detailed information regarding the ValueGroove Process, see the Resources section of this site.
All ValueGroove process solutions are designed to multiply the impact of our Boston-based business coaching offering, serving clients in North America and Europe.