They lament about investing in pricey team-building exercises, work-style assessments and new systems to help drive efficiency – only to see few tangible results. They wonder why efforts spent on these and other training programs, even those aimed at the most high-potential and motivated team members, seem to yield little or no ROI.
I listen to their stories and nod in sympathy. But then I share the news that most may suspect, but really don’t really want to hear: it’s not surprising. The truth is, most companies, while well intentioned, suffer from what I call “execution inertia” – an inability to move their strategic plan(s) forward. According to Harvard Business Review, 6 in 10 organizations admit to having this ailment, rating themselves as ‘poor’ at turning strategy into results.
For these companies, no traditional training and development program, no matter how acclaimed, is likely to help.
The problem with these organizations, and indeed most, is that individual team members either haven’t bought into the corporate strategy itself, or don’t understand what they need to do (individually) to support it. The lines of accountability are blurry, and consequently so is the ownership for key action items.
To put it another way: What if a champion archer were shooting at a target that was not crystal clear? What would his/her chances of hitting the bull’s eye be, even if coached by the best in the world?
Not very good, I’m afraid.
Research conducted by the Steven Covey organization shows that only about a third of all employees understand the strategic direction of the company that pays them, and only about 20% understand the connection between the company’s ‘bows’ and the coveted bull’s eye. Worse still, less than 10% of employees even care.
So what’s missing from most performance-driven cultures? One word: Clarity. But here’s the good news: Clarity can be relatively easy to achieve.
Clarity starts with a high-level conversation focused on ensuring that everyone on every team is hawk-eye clear on the target, and can express what it means in terms of his or her role. A conversation about clarity should be done in an open forum with the entire team, so that team members can challenge assumptions and overlap, help facilitate understanding of the corporate direction, and commit to their individual roles.
Most importantly, it should be led by the President/CEO, who must be willing to invest the time it takes to have the dialogue – and push the team to provide honest input about their understanding and support.
It’s true that most CEO’s are extremely busy people. They are also very smart and quick on the pickup, and see things that others don’t. The challenge is, what they understand in a few minutes may take their direct reports several hours of discussion to ‘get’. Many team members will consequently feign understanding of a strategy, to avoid embarrassment or career limiting comments.
This is why the top person in the organization needs to invest the most precious commodity he/she has – time. Not training and development programs, but time.
Dedicated and protected time with his/her team during the strategic planning process will allow for team members to honestly and without fear of embarrassment probe, ask questions, brainstorm, learn. To have what one guru calls ‘crucial conversations’. And it doesn’t happen without deliberated intention. Without design. Without patience.
So I say scrap training and development for now. And have a strategic dialogue.
With the CEO.