By: John Bonoff
Company goal alignment, from top-level executives down to entry-level operators has always been a challenge, especially among large enterprises. According to a survey of 550 organizations and 2.2 million employees, half of those surveyed don’t know what is expected of them at work. Even fewer, roughly 14%, claim to understand their employer’s strategic priorities.
These numbers are problematic, but what happens when you add on a global health crisis, the likes of which have never been experienced by even the most senior members of the work force? How do organizations maintain alignment in the face of shifting priorities on both the company and individual level?
Although the economic impacts of COVID-19 are yet to be seen, it is exceedingly clear that getting everyone on the same page is more important than ever. Here are some ways to establish structure and bolster top-down alignment amidst the uncertainty.
Make your go-forward plan clear to everyone
Never have your employees been more eager to hear and understand the company’s plan for the future. Cut through the personal and professional uncertainty with a plan that employees can comprehend, and encourage them to ask questions. According to Gallup, only 39% of employees strongly agree that their company’s plan has been made clear in the COVID era. Along with your leadership team, be honest about the fluidity of both the plan and the greater circumstance, but come to the table with a plan you can be confident in. Establishing this baseline will solidify a framework that individuals can refer to in their own goal-setting process. It will also give you a definitive place from which to start measuring progress.
Put company objectives in context
Clarifying the individual implications of company goals is always important, but during massive change, it’s crucial. Even if an employee falls within the 14% that understand their company’s strategy, that doesn’t mean they understand how it applies to their role. That’s where managers and leaders come in. Incorporate discussions about larger strategic priorities into performance management. Take the time to help individuals craft goals that feed into these company priorities. Map them out. Make the connections on paper. Employees who write down their goals are 42% more likely to achieve them. Let employees drive their own growth, but help to ensure that their growth promotes organizational goals in a tangible way. Clarifying the grander implications of daily tasks will also provide a healthy boost for employee engagement.
Sync more closely with leaders
Leaders are responsible for disseminating new information, conducting performance management, and supporting the wellbeing of employees. These are vital functions in times of change, and they reinforce the need for leaders to be kept up to date. But leaders serve another even more important function. By their own example, leaders often inform employees how they should feel, and by proxy, how they should perform in the face of new challenges. They also make all the difference when it comes to change initiatives.
According to one survey, 75% of change initiatives fail. Behind that number is a staggering 22% of senior managers that don’t understand the reasons behind organizational goals. Making sure leaders themselves have the time to communicate what they need, for themselves and their employees, is vital to the life of the organization. In the face of drastic changes, well-equipped leaders will make the difference in how quickly changes can be communicated and implemented.
Maintain unwavering standards
Many aspects of our professional lives look quite different than they did a month ago, and adjustments to the “new normal” are ongoing. However, one thing should remain steadfast: the standards of quality you set for your team.
In order to make it through such a significant change, our commitment to great work needs to be as strong as ever. Process changes and personal accommodations come with the territory, but when we sit down to work, the same standards need to be followed, and they need to be reinforced. Performance management needs to be adapted, not softened. When participating in the goal-setting process with employees, make sure standards and values are clear before goals are committed to. Consider using communication journeys to ensure the understanding of your company goals and values. Compromised standards can lead to a lack of trust in leadership, which gives way to a decrease in employee engagement. Use ongoing check-ins to maintain mutual respect for standards and trouble-shoot any individual issues.
Make communication ongoing
In the midst of wide-ranging change, the channels for communication need to be open at all times. Relying on formal performance reviews to regulate employee growth and output is insufficient. Making sure employees at all levels are comfortable with regular check-ins will support goal alignment in more ways than one. First, it helps uphold accountability and clarifies expectations, which is statistically proven to increase engagement and performance. Second, the more relaxed, open-door policy promotes the honest exchange of feedback, which helps everyone stay grounded amid ambiguity. And finally, the open channels will allow key information to be passed along quickly and efficiently, which comes in handy during times of turbulent change.
Better understand and support individuals
In addition to consistent communication, now is a great time to better understand the people you work with, and all the possible ways you can support them. In suiting operations to the current crisis, many organizations have a higher demand for a few specific functions, and in some cases, those functions may be new to the teams performing them. Use employee motivation strategies to connect with your team, better understand their skills and interests, and ensure they stay fulfilled and focused in a trying time.
Invest in employee wellbeing
With work and life blended like never before, successful performance management must include personal check-ins. Go beyond small talk and connect with employees about the needs and challenges they have in working remote. Use the first few minutes of a performance review to ask about how they are handling the news of the pandemic. Less than half of employees strongly agree that their employer cares about their overall wellbeing in the time of COVID-19. Work together to find ways of making weekdays more enjoyable. Keep up on how they are doing, so you can better connect with them and support them at work.
Focus on Learning
The global changes we are living through should cause us to re-evaluate what purpose our objectives serve. Goals and goal alignment help ensure we move systematically towards a desired outcome, but during an adjustment period, it may be prudent to set aside the usual playbook and experiment. Try to decipher which skills may become more useful in the new landscape and which employees may be suited to them. Give individuals room to expand their range. In their article about adjusting the goal-setting process to suit the situation, Martin Reeves and Jack Fuller sum up this concept nicely, saying, “If the business environment shifts over time, say from a more to a less predictable context, we should consider changing our goals, in this case from specific to usefully fuzzy.”
In order to get through changes and challenging times, alignment around company goals is a necessity. Everyone needs to understand where the company sits, how they plan to move forward, and what can be done on the individual level to make it happen. Leaders and managers are responsible for cascading information and expectations, and accounting for the wellbeing of employees. Open communication must be instituted and practiced, so that feedback and critical messaging gets where it needs to go. In the absence of these alignment measures, it can be hard to tell who feels left behind, who is trending in the wrong direction, and who may be harboring an idea about how to help the company move forward. Take these vital actions to move toward success as a collective.