I've never been one for small talk. I much prefer to get to the heart of the matter and find a true connection to another human being beyond what the weather is like today, or which team played where or won what. I am much more interested in who people are; what drives or inspires them, what keeps them up at night, and gets them up in the morning. I suppose this makes me either great or terrible company depending on how you look at it, but in an age of superficial social connection a fulfilling conversation or exchange of ideas with another human being, face to face, is one of the parts of community that I cherish. I have always cherished it in my private life and I grew to appreciate those connections more and more throughout my professional career.
I do find it surprisingly rare, however, to find an individual or an organization that is not so preoccupied with 'doing' that they can confidently articulate why they are doing what they are doing. Can you or your business answer the big question of "what is important to you?"
Have you identified the values and assumptions that drive you personally and professionally? What drives your business beyond shareholder expectations? What drives your day-to-day personal life beyond working to pay bills? Are you clear on what matters?
Often, personal financial obligations can overshadow more fundamental aspects of our character and personality. I have found it incredibly helpful to design my own mission, vision and values, and to at all times have a list of the four most important mid-term items required to move me forward. I do not think of this as a "to do list", but rather a "must do list". A concise list with big tasks to make big projects happen. In good times or bad, this list of priorities serves as my guide.
Like everyone, I can easily busy myself with the many chores of life, but I find if I ensure that every day at least one of my priorities is advancing, I know that I am not only making it through the day, but also moving toward the things that matter most to me. Without clarity on these priorities, I would be unfocused and drifting.
Professionally, the same principles apply. We can drive the bottom line, but is profit the only reason to exist? I can speak from experience in saying that profit alone is not enough to sustain engagement in employees. Well established organizations will have cohesive, engaged and inspiring vision, mission, and values statements, sourced and built from the grass-roots of their organizations. If used properly, these can be remarkably galvanizing tools that can excite and unite a large group of people. These statements answer the "why" of the organization and drive the business beyond the bottom line.
Unfortunately, most business see the task of creating these statements as an obligatory tasks and they end up with vision, mission, and value statements that are without spirit, full of jargon, and are completely meaningless - so much so that that they have no engaging resonance with their employees. In fact, most employees at organizations like this do not even know what these statements mean in action for their organization, how they were created, or by whom. If this is the case, it would be better to use none of these statements, as they will send a message to employees that an exclusive process was followed to set irrelevant priorities by senior leaders who could not be bothered to gather the input of their most valuable resource - their employees.
I have the privilege of working with Matt Holland, formerly of the Boston Consulting Group, co-author of Innovation Nation, and my partner in Creative Change Management Consulting. For businesses and organizations struggling with the above scenario, Matt and I have specifically developed an organization-wide approach to listening and employee engagement that can help develop organizational unity.
Through cross-divisional focus groups with every staff member and co-designed sessions on strategy, vision, mission and values, what emerges is a dynamic engagement process with a foundation built for and from every level of the organization.
The processes also help employees understand themselves and their role in the organization's work, while helping CEOs and senior leaders identify some of the exceptional yet hidden talent buried within their organizations. It is a process that requires serious and sustained commitment, but your people and their success is worth it. The investment of time in this process of reflection and strategic ideation produces serious financial benefit and a much more engaged workforce.
Whether personally or professionally, it is imperative that we are clear on who we are and what drives us. Without this, no person or organization can move forward meaningfully. Without this clarity you will likely still do a lot but not necessarily do anything in service to what you really want or need.
Living in a complex and chaotic world requires real focus on our values or we risk becoming lost in the swirl of life. We must take time to be clear with our ourselves, our family/friends, and our colleagues on who we are and what we are here to do. This clarity of purpose will lead to much more effective and fulfilling personal and professional lives. What do you value and how did you serve it today? If you didn't do anything meaningful, it might be time to change your approach.
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