Top Two Reasons Leaders Don’t Work As a Team

We recently surveyed CEOs about their top concerns and learned that many worry their own leaders aren’t all on the same page, despite assurances to the contrary.

When leaders aren’t in sync on company direction or priorities, they’re apt to:

  • Send mixed messages that confuse people
  • Create silos and turf battles that are debilitating and
  • Make it difficult for employees to do great things for customers.

Here are the top two reasons I’ve found why leaders aren’t on the same page, with ways to avoid both.

1. Lack of Vision and Strategy Clarification

These leaders assume that everyone on their team has a common understanding of the language included in the vision, strategy and goals documents.

Take the term “world class.” Everyone says they want to be world class, but what does it really mean? What does it look like? What do we have to do to become world class—specifically? How do we measure it?

Unless the words and phrases are translated into the way work gets done, leaders lead by assuming that we’re all on the same page when we’re not.

When I’m working with leaders to clarify their vision or strategy, I encourage them to paint a clear, detailed picture of what the vision or strategy is and is not. This “will do/won’t do” exercise turns something that starts out gray into black and white.

Vision metrics enable leaders to agree on what is world class and then communicate those expectations to the rest of the organization. For instance, agreeing on a zero lost time accidents for the next four years makes a clear statement about the safety goal. There’s nothing vague about that number.

2. Goal and Incentive Misalignment

During an employee survey we conducted for a Fortune 500 client, employees told us they knew the CEO encouraged collaboration among business units in order to go to market with a broad portfolio of products and services.

However, while employees agreed with the importance of collaboration, in reality they said there were huge walls between the business units and organizational departments. These silo walls were impeding collaboration. The leaders’ goals or incentives to the enterprise vision and strategy didn’t rigorously connect.

I asked to see the goals and incentives of the top leaders because I know how powerfully they communicate. They drive what people do.  I saw what I’d anticipated.

Jason’s goals and incentives focused on Jason’s business unit while Kristin’s goals and incentives focused on her business unit. Some of the leaders had enterprise goals but others didn’t. Some weightings were as large as 75 percent or as small as five percent. A five percent weighting communicates a low priority to whatever is attached.

To stimulate collaboration across the organization, the enterprise goals and weightings for this company were modified so they were similar and shared among the leadership team. This created interdependency across the team. It communicated, “For the enterprise to be successful, we all have to be successful.” Leaders must reinforce the importance of the larger team.

Clarify and Align…Everything

Step one of getting everyone on the same page is that leaders need to clarify the organization’s vision, strategy and performance targets.

Step two is to align the entire organization to those targets. Rewards, recognition, work processes, formal and informal communication, learning and development and organizational structure must all communicate and enable the same thing—a resolute focus on the vision, strategy and financial targets.

Then everything and everyone is on the same page, all the time.

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