It’s not uncommon to hear people talking about the importance of linking vision and strategy with performance management of teams and individuals. But what does that actually mean and how do we make it happen? It’s one thing to say we must have a ‘clear line of sight’ between the big picture objectives of an organisation and the role each person in the team plays, but articulating that through performance plans can be difficult in some roles. The reality is some responsibilities are routine in nature and have very little obvious connection with company vision. While it may be straightforward to write performance plans for senior leaders that reflect specific objectives underpinning achievement of vision, often it isn’t quite as easy for roles less impacted year to year by shifting strategic priorities.
Regardless, it is remains the job of any leader to help people to join even the most obscure dots to help them understand how they fit in. There in lies the answer to what we are really trying to achieve. The important thing in linking performance management with vision is making sure everyone knows why and how they matter. To leverage the full potential of people, to get them excited about the contributions they make, it helps if they know where the company is heading and how what they do is important. People need to understand how and why what they are responsible for fits into the whole picture of what is needed for success.
Let’s reflect on an example to illustrate this point: while there may not be an obvious link between “Maximize long-term return to shareholders” and “Ensure all phone calls are answered within the first five seconds” there is a conversation that can be had about the importance of excellent customer service to optimising financial performance. While we may not be able to precisely quantify the financial impact of call answer rates, it is possible to define the links between call answering, customer satisfaction and profitability. Let’s assume the organisation is working hard to improve its reputation for efficient service delivery – behind this objective is their need to improve how quickly they move product out of the warehouse and into the hands of the customer. While staff in the call centre may not directly influence the drivers of this outcomes they are still able to contribute to the overall result. The interaction each customer has with staff on the phones has the potential to dramatically affect their overall experience and perceptions of service delivery quality. It is important the leaders of this group ensure these links are made crystal clear.
Put simply linking vision and performance is about telling people what the dreams and burning priorities of the business are and how they play a part in making it happen. It’s not about forcing tenuous links between performance objectives and specific vision statements. In short, I don’t believe it’s possible to write performance objectives for everyone that clearly articulate all of the links between their performance and achieving the company vision. More often than not the most important thing we can do is articulate the links through discussions we have with the members of our team. Remember to avoid being bureaucratic, condescending or patronising in the process. Be observant and respectful of what people already know but also make sure they are clear about the difference they can and are expected to make.
Before we even begin to work with staff to create this clarity however, we must first make sure our eyes are set on achievable goals. While it’s important to be ambitious and dream big, it matters to success that your team are motivated by aspiring to achieve a vision that is actually attainable. It doesn’t matter how enthusiastic and excited about the future we are, if the team aren’t buying it they are unlikely to strive to achieve. An unrealistic vision is not only unlikely to inspire hard work or passion; it is just as likely to deflate the drive and determination of a team. Too often I observe people throw their hands in the air and declare something too unattainable to even bother trying. If you don’t want your team to give up before they even start, make sure your dreams are grounded in reality.
If your vision is hard to achieve and yet you still have faith, explain to your team how you plan to get there. Be clear about why you believe in the strategic directions you are taking but also the role each of them will play. It’s important to help people not only understand the role they are expected to play but also how it is possible they will find ways to overcome obstacles or challenges they see lying across the path on the way to your destination. Help people to see and appreciate the collective potential of the group and how together you can succeed. Linking vision and performance fundamentally comes down to these questions:
- Do people know what the business is trying to achieve and why?
- Do they intimately understand how their role fits in to that big picture?
- Do they know what the most important outcomes are that they are responsible for achieving?
- Do they believe it’s possible and are they inspired to dig deep and try hard to get there?