Well-run businesses define and measure success in terms of sustainable value-creation. Yet, the people inside those business often don’t understand their roles in those terms. Peter Blok, Managing Partner of OFI Enterprises and an Everwise mentor, sees this commonly in teams charged with deploying enterprise resource planning (ERP) software in their organizations. The team spends months deploying huge, complex, expensive software, then declares victory when the software is up and running according to specifications. The problem is that the business results are disastrous. Users don’t know how to use the software, the company doesn’t have critical new processes in place to support the technology, and on and on.
So, why did the ERP team declare victory? The answer: myopic sense of purpose. They confused activity with results. They saw their job as “implement and maintain an ERP system by the aggressive deadline set by the COO,” not “implement and maintain an ERP system that delivers value to the company in the following specific ways…”
Blok emphasizes that having a myopic sense of purpose is not at all specific to ERP teams – it happens in every department. There’s the sales team that maximizes the number of closed deals by bringing in a higher volume of smaller transactions or high-maintenance, low-value customers. And the product team charged with innovating that adds powerful features, but abandons or obscures features that customers love in the process. There are many versions of this situation for every function in business.
To set the right goals, focus on big picture impact
How do you make sure you and your team avoid myopia and work toward the right goals? Map out how your work creates value for the organization.
Consider exploring any or all of the closely-related questions below, both independently and with input from colleagues and leadership:
- If my team didn’t show up for work for the next month, and no one replaced us, what would the consequences be for the company? Follow the trail of impact all the way through to the company’s ability to serve customers profitably.
- If I/we successfully deliver each major project we’re working on, as we’ve defined it, does that necessarily mean it will deliver value to the company?
- How does my team measure success? How do the teams we serve measure success? Caution: This is last question is only helpful if good measures are in place. To gauge the quality of existing measures or ones you put in place, learn more about OKRs.
We recommend taking a crack at answering these yourself first, then discussing with peers and finally, getting feedback from your manager.
Translating your goals back into your role
With good answers to the questions above, you can evaluate the quality of the goals you’ve set and adjust as needed. If you’ve changed or refined your goals, you’ll want to revisit the way you define your role. Make the ultimate value you deliver to the company and its customers as clear as possible.
Keep in mind – this approach is applicable no matter how far you and your team are from the revenue stream. Be expansive. Consider two possible roles for the same person:
- The guy who takes out the trash
- The guy who creates the kind of healthy, attractive work environment where people want to stay because they’re happier and more productive
Which role feels more meaningful and delivers more value to the business? Which role helps the person inhabiting it find opportunities to exceed expectations and rise in the organization?
Locking in the gains
The last piece of this puzzle is focus. Smart, driven people fall victim to myopic perspective all the time. The ERP team with the failed software deployment would surely agree that their job is to create business value. But it’s easy to imagine how they might have lost the forest for the trees when they had 5,000 things to get done just to deliver the project on time. As Blok points out, “In the heat of the battle, people lose sight of the big picture.”
The stresses of day-to-day life can take your team’s eyes too far off of the big picture goal. To counter this, start by making sure that your goals focus on meaningful business outcomes, that roles are defined to align with those goals, and that everyone knows their roles. Focus your team on measures of real business outcomes. As a leader part of your job is to create an atmosphere that emphasizes valuable outcomes and not just short term, check the box, achievements.
It’s fine to track whether a project is “on time and on budget,” but make sure everyone’s continuously looking at indicators of your business’ overall success like customer satisfaction, product utilization, and ongoing operating costs. If people consistently define their roles and measure their success in those terms, the siren song of the myopic view will be drowned out by the call for real business impact. At the same time, your team will likely feel a greater sense of purpose and satisfaction in their work.
There’s a lot in this for you
Beyond the benefit to your business, getting over a myopic sense of purpose has a number of personal and team benefits:
- Decision making/autonomy: You and your team will make better decisions and everyone on the team will need less guidance in making them if you have a clear sense of your end goals
- Motivation: Knowing how your work contributes to business success helps people have a more meaningful sense of purpose
- Connection: Having well-defined shared goals will help people be better team players and feel less isolated
- Opportunity: Focusing on delivering value to customers and the organization will put you in an infinitely better position to get recognized for your contributions and find opportunities to advance by delivering the kinds of results that truly matter
Those are just the benefits of having a role that is better aligned with your organization. The process of defining that role – by reflecting on the needs and priorities of your business – will put you in the middle of conversations with peers and leadership about the work that most impacts your business’s success. Needless to say, that’s a good place to be.