What do your staff really need when embarking on transformation projects? Paula Leach provides four key questions successful leaders ask
What is your leadership vision? What does that actually mean and how can leaders effectively and practically translate this into something meaningful and impactful for their team?
There is always a challenge of leading through change and one of the most important aspects of leadership is ensuring that clarity exists. With clarity, direction and a shared purpose communicated well, teams achieve high performance and focus their energies.
However, in many situations, clarity isn’t achieved, and leaders spend a lot of time creating alignment, responding to misalignment, making decisions as everything flows up to them as a critical point. This reactive style of leadership can lead to wasted resources, has behavioural implications regarding essential social requirements of group working such as trust, and is simply exhausting for any leader to sustain.
The leader’s role is not simply to describe the destination, but to ensure that everyone understands what to do ‘enroute’
There are four simple questions to ask people in leadership positions. And many cannot succinctly and definitively answer these four questions in such a way which could be repeated, understood with ease, and used by others as the parameters for contribution, collaboration, and performance.
The four questions
1. Where are we going?
Any leader has the responsibility to help a group of people shift something from A to B. Whether that is a daily customer service provision being completed or a large-scale multiyear transformation. Being able to articulate that destination at a high level in a simple sentence, the ‘B’, is critical context.
To create followership not only does a leader need to share the destination, but they need to entice others to move and act. The ‘Why’ of any shift or change, even if it is day-to-day operations, enhances quality, shared purpose, and discretionary effort. It enables others to create and align their own stories of purpose and meaning to the tasks at hand
3. What does it look like when we get there?
Most commonly this is the question with which many leaders, and executive leadership teams, struggle. It is important that not only do we describe the destination (e.g., introduce new technology to enhance the customer experience); but that we can assign some scenarios to colour in what this change will actually mean and what will be different and / or the same. So, in this example of introducing new technology, does this mean that there will be changes to the way we work, the types of jobs we do, what experience our customers will have?
To some extent the ‘where are we going’? is analogous to ‘we are building a big eco house’ and the ‘what does it look like when we get there?’ would be the visualisation drawings of the architect’s plans showing what we could expect from layout, design, look and feel etc.
The answer to this question enables us to bring to life the destination and to help express choices and create discussions about what we are creating together. Often there is a reluctance to describe ‘what it looks like’ because many leaders feel they don’t have enough information. There will never be enough information for certainty, but scenarios and possible futures – like architects’ drawings – can provide sufficient and helpful clarity.
4. What is the work that needs to get done?
This is a hugely crucial question for any leader wanting to create a shift or change in an organisation. And it can only be answered if the previous question has some texture and content. Effectively, if only the future is described, there are many interpretations which could happen creating a degree of chaos and misalignment. The leader’s role is not simply to describe the destination, but to ensure that everyone understands what to do ‘enroute’. If we have clarity about ‘the work that needs to get done’ expectations are aligned, and this enables the leader to step back and manage the oversight and larger picture of change rather than being pulled into the details.
What can help you as a leader once you can answer these questions?
Answering the four questions is the foundation or starting point to create clarity and a vision which can come to life in an organisation. As a leader there are a few key aspects that can support this work: belief, collaboration, shared understanding, and creation of space.
While being able to answer the four key questions succinctly and with sufficient colour to create momentum, fundamentally leaders must believe wholeheartedly in the mission they are leading to create true followership. Not only do they need to articulate the ‘why’ from an organisational perspective, but to be able to convey their own personal ‘why’ which will be apparent and bring passion and enliven all communications. Personal belief is contagious.
Working collaboratively at the top
Those leading an organisational change that is not aligned with broader messaging in the organisation or aligned with the behaviours and priorities of other peers and senior leaders, this will be easily seen in the organisation. People in the leader’s team need to know that what they are working towards fits into a wider purpose and collaboration, otherwise divisions and fractures at the top of an organisation can find their way through to large scale misalignment at the working and change level. Share the key questions both up, down, and sideways in organisations to ensure alignment.
Ensuring shared understanding by summarising
Ask four people to draw an elephant and while they will all likely have big ears and a trunk; the dimensions, direction it is facing etc are likely to be different. Clarity is achieved by sharing, and then encouragingly summarising back, so all are interpreting descriptions and directions as cohesively as possible. Leaders should not assume that because they have communicated the four key questions, that others have interpreted the answer in the same way. Summarising is powerful to ensure an early, correct course.
The beauty of ensuring that clarity and direction exist, is that this enables a leader to create space. The greater the sense of shared endeavour, the easier it is for a leader to step back and allow creativity and innovation and problem solving. If there are not parameters which are shared and understood, people find it difficult to collaborate effectively. The establishment of a clear sense of direction and priorities, enables others to focus their energies and bring their talents to the team.
Paula Leach runs her own business, Vantage Points Consulting, and is the author of Vantage Points: how to create a culture where employees thrive.