AN INVISIBLE WEDGE APPEARS
A fast-growing company is not only scaling in funds, but it is also scaling in team size and is going through a transformation in various spheres. Starting from garage chairs to its first office, a kitchen table to a conference room, a bunch of underslept, overworked people sleeping in a garage to a bunch of underslept overworked people sleeping in an office couch. This phase is when the employees too, are adapting to newer colleagues, invasive but necessary HR processes, and your team as a whole is having a “breaking the cocoon” moment.
However, this also happens to be the juncture, where the Invisible wedge starts to seep in slowly. As a leader smart enough to bootstrap your way to this point of a company, you would be at one of the two junctures at this point.
- You were able to convince someone to join your quest to solve a pesky problem and got that first round of seed fund, to make an excellent product.
- Your road to awesomeness was far shorter than you thought where people already love your product and want more of it!
Either way, this makes one resource extremely scarce. Your time. Since every leader of a growing business is busy tending to a plethora of tasks; daily management, and daily updates; communication of priorities end up taking a back seat.
BUT WE HAVE REGULAR MEETINGS AS A WHOLE TEAM LIKE WE ALWAYS USED TO!
Sure, but this meeting maybe helping the older employees who have traveled with you from the beginning of this tiresome journey. To your newer employees who have just joined the adventure, it still isn’t making their priorities very clear for them, but they are still able to source their tasks from the old employees who bridge the gap by communicating with you and them. This siloed functioning inevitably results in the first chunk of an invisible wedge, between you and the first set of new employees.
INVISIBLE WEDGE IN THE TEAM WIDENS
When this same process repeats further, and your office expands more in size and is going through another organizational transformation. The company has achieved enough growth because the first set of employees took more responsibilities, and your initial employees have guided them well. However, this also means that the first employees are now ready to be promoted to middle management, and the second set of employees will replace them.
However, since these first employees have accustomed themselves to only communicate with your older employees, they continue in that same pattern, where the founding team becomes the executive, and the first set of employees become the middle management. For those second set of employees who are working under the new managers, your goals and organizational vision are light years away, and their only source of information is their managers. Since human psychology is to dilute communication, this flow of information from your organizational vision, to your executives and your executives to the managers and finally to the new employees would have resulted in a piece of vague and ambiguous information. You as a leader of this organization are still unaware of this widening wedge because you are focused on the next big goal, as you should be.
THE FINAL CLEAVE
It is important to note that at all stages of this expansion process, not only is your company going through an organizational transformation but also newer members are continuously added to hasten the growth process. So after the second new set of employees have joined your workforce, there is already a wide unnoticed gap between you, your executives and the most recently joined workers.
By this time, your organizational vision and the directionality of the company is only being communicated by you to the executives and upper management, who in-turn dilute the information to the second set of employees who themselves are now managers and are weakening it further to the most newly joined.
Though this seems like a trivial issue and you may think that the relationship between the CEO and a newly joined fresher is at best transactional. Smart companies have already shifted from those methods and are always trying to unlock the potential of the entire workforce through transparency, a culture of ownership, work attribution, rewards, and recognition. Successful companies are no more about a rare genius spearheading innovation, but a bunch of smart people, co-owning a product to create something delightful for your customers.
At this juncture, the wedge in your team has driven it far enough apart, where there is little to no communication between the CEO and a newly joined recruit. This wedge means that there is a clear difference in hierarchy between the Leadership and the workforce as they have stopped collaborating, and are now following orders, they view each other as competitors rather than contributors. They have stopped being accountable, and have stopped actively contributing. These issues are already highlighted in the book “The five dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni.
HOW DO I SOLVE THIS?
The answer, adopt a goal-setting system.
Many organizations big and small have effectively leveraged goal setting to deliver results successfully. As we often understand, that many notable business leaders prioritize clarity of vision as the piece de resistance’ of any growing business.
However, setting goals isn’t some sticky notes on a board. It is a persistent effort towards prioritizing your order of workflow for three months to a year. It is painstaking effort taken by you and your team to sort out your priorities so that, when you jump to executing the tasks, uncertainties do not confound you, or at least you recuperate with very minimal effort even if it happens so. Goal setting takes more energy to do as opposed to quoting it as a buzzword in team meetings. If done persistently, it rewards you and your team with the clarity to tackle any challenge that may come along your way, and this clarity will serve as a signpost in every decision you make.
Individual commitment to a group effort -- that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work. - Vince Lombardi
BUT I ALWAYS ENCOURAGE OPEN COMMUNICATION WITHIN MY TEAM!
Yes! Also, they end up encouraging their subordinates. However, encouragement to be transparent isn’t equivalent to transparency, and It will never be!
When it comes to the workplace, this lack of activity towards goals often comes down to a deficit of organizational structure and methodology or a lack of accountability.
Here, I’d like to highlight some points as to why adopting a goal-setting system will increase your likelihood of success on organizational goal achievement and help you eliminate the invisible wedge.
To do that I am going to borrow a few valuable points highlighted by Indus Khaitan.
"Accountability is the willingness of team members to remind one another when they are not living up to the performance standards of the group. - The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni”
WHY YOU NEED A GOAL SETTING SYSTEM?
1. Absence of trust.
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">1/5 Absence of trust among team members (Resulting problem: invulnerability) <br>Lack of trust leads to team members not admitting to mistakes and are cagey of making non-conventional choices for fear of failing and being stripped of their status and $ goals.</p>— Indus Khaitan (@1ndus) <a href="https://twitter.com/1ndus/status/1063974263189757952?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">November 18, 2018</a></blockquote><script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Initially, when the company is just starting, it starts with a close-knit team, the trust and ownership is implicit. However, once the team size starts increasing, responsibilities start accumulating, and this juncture is where people start prioritizing individual success over organizational success.
2. Fear of conflict
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">2/5 Fear of conflict (Resulting problem: Artificial harmony)<br>The team fears to rock each other's boats or asking tough questions to each other. As a result, everybody is friendly to each other. Works in the short term but at the collective expense of a company's growth.</p>— Indus Khaitan (@1ndus) <a href="https://twitter.com/1ndus/status/1063974899373359104?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">November 18, 2018</a></blockquote><script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
Once they start prioritizing individual success over that of the organization, tough questions and constructive criticism that are necessary to be had between collaborators to craft a delightful product, is immediately thrown out of the window. This norm results in a blissfully ignorant acceptance of a mediocre status quo.
3. Lack of commitment
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">3/5 Lack of commitment (Resulting problem: Ambiguity in results/decisions)<br>Since there is no one asking hard questions, a groupthink on decision making prevails, where people buy-in on decisions made w/o contributing their real intellect to the strategic decision-making process.</p>— Indus Khaitan (@1ndus) <a href="https://twitter.com/1ndus/status/1063976305803153408?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">November 18, 2018</a></blockquote><script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
This problem is easy to identify and happens when the wedge between the leadership and executive is at its peak wherein no one decides to raise their voice as the “wedge” has driven everyone from aiming for responsible accountability to plausible deniability.
A goal setting system will help you address the following issues, and your success is not the accumulation of your results, but by the minuscule changes, you’ve strived to make in your organization that leave a lingering impact. Goal setting is as good for personal development as it is for organizational growth.
WHAT GOAL SETTING SYSTEM ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?
There is more than one methodology that is currently in use to help growing organizations sort their priorities with OKRs or Objectives and Key result being the most common.
Smart companies use OKRs as they have proven effective across organizations of all sizes. It conceptualized by Andy Grove of Intel and later popularized by John Doerr, the author of Measure What Matters. OKRs have been adopted for decades by several notable companies such as Intel, Google, Twitter, LinkedIn, Sears and many others.
The OKR framework involves a minimum of three to a maximum of five quarterly objectives that cascade across the entire organization or to separate teams. Each target is considered a SMART goal, which is:
Every objective is tied down to three to four key results, which can be of two types
Qualitative or Quantitative.
For example :
Improving company brand awareness - Qualitative
Growing company revenue by a certain number. - Quantitative
At the end of every quarter, the entire organization evaluates whether or not each team reached their goals and how well they scored on a scale of 0 - 1. They change their objectives to make them more challenging or realistic based on the desired outcome. In the OKR framework, the aim is not to score a one always but to aim for 0.7 - 0.8 for maximum efficiency.
OKR framework is not only about setting goals, but also to enhance organizational productivity, accountability and rallying your workforce around one common purpose. This organizational framework, in turn, creates alignment and increases the likelihood of attaining your company goals.
HOW GOAL SETTING USING OKR SOLVES THE INVISIBLE WEDGE PROBLEM
So far, it was clear how the Invisible wedge problem, plays hand in hand with the five dysfunctions in a team and how it may lead to overall organizational misalignment. Now I would like to address how this particular misalignment can be gradually reversed by Using OKRs, Feedback and One on Ones.
Depending on how far the invisible wedge has penetrated your organization, your workforce structure is in one of the three stages of Misalignment.
- Misaligned Organization
- Misaligned Teams
- Fully Aligned organization.
Restructuring a misaligned organization
Though technically all these are a “part” of your organization, the word “separate” is used because they have become separate in operational functionality and have started to operate independently in silos. This separation is when the penetration of the wedge has been the maximum due to lack of team alignment, organizational goal setting, and management.
This stage of the organization is easily identified, when the growing company faces an issue as always, the first thing that happens is the executives have an all room board meeting with themselves. The middle management will get an update, and they will start forwarding these emails to the workforce who will ultimately end up in the cafeteria discussing their next job prospects over coffee. There is somewhat of an adverse cascading effect on the organization, because, human psychology dictates, the farther we are from an imminent threat, the lesser we feel impacted by it.
At this stage of the company, there has been systematic neglect concerning the communication of clarity and transparency. It is the last thing that is running in the mind of the executives or the workforce. Hence discussion essentially boils down to furiously typed e-mails with BOLD HEADLINES followed by EMERGENCY, or the classic [IMPORTANT]: which again focuses only on the information at hand and not on tackling the problem.
If you are the part of leadership in a fast growing business that exhibits the current scenario, it would be best if you did everything in your power to enable upper and middle management to adopt the practice of OKRs. With OKRs The structure of a siloed executive body, middle management, and workforce, will be slowly guided towards team alignment, where all of these teams starting working within and with each other in systematic goal-oriented progress.
Once the teams are internally aligned, through cascading goals, everyone gets opacity on the roadmap drawn by the leadership for the organization. Not only does the middle management get a clear view of the bigger picture, but the workforce that is under the direction of the middle management are no more at the mercy of their managers to act as mediators. Your company now builds a universal goal-oriented plan of action that everyone follows through and also brings in the accountability and ownership on behalf of every individual in the workforce.
Restructuring misaligned teams
Now the team goes from misaligned organization to misaligned teams and this shift can be of one of the two types.
Upper & Middle management vs Workforce
A misaligned organization where the Executives and Management are on the same page as the Leadership, but there is a clear wedge between Leadership and Workforce. This kind of invisible wall has when the Initial team of the business sticks with it and after demonstrating responsibility gets moved into a management position. These people are here because they have stuck with the company from the start, share it’s ideals and have been able to maintain clear communication between themselves and the CEO. However, since they are best at executing the responsibility themselves, they remain to be the workhorses they once were and fail to devote enough time to their duty as managers.
This stage of the organization is easily identified when the managers of the team are always too busy to appreciate good work, too busy to mentor their squad, too active to have time for an employee in dire need of mentorship. Once the employees have started to understand their manager is inevitably unreachable, the wedge has apparently stopped any possibility of team alignment. Weekly and bi-weekly meetings become more of a ritual rather than constructive criticism and sharing of knowledge. The managers due to their busy schedule, decide to pop in one day and check in the order of things; finding out to their dismay, the work is borderline satisfactory if not inadequate. They then decide to take it upon themselves to fix the mistake or micromanaging every part of the work which drives the wedge further. The employees start demonizing their bosses, and their mindset towards work becomes transactional, rather than collaborative.
Here is where OKRs, Feedback and One on Ones can save the day, by giving every employee the attention to help fix a mistake and recognition for a job well done, the company inevitably improves their productivity multifold. OKRs give both the busy managers and enthusiastic employees the perfect middle ground to tear down the wall of communicative isolation and give them a chance to start feeding each other’s progress. Managers who are busy can quickly jump to the OKR sheet to view progress, update their comments and help employees fix any roadblock that they anticipate and make them win over their deadlines.
This practice turns the workforce from a toxic, manager hating, chinese whisper circle, into a set of passionate contributors who hold their leaders and the company’s value in high esteem. OKRs facilitate organizations to systematically treat every contributor as a co-owner in the companies vision. Once the teams are aligned with the middle management, they are now seeing the big picture as their leaders do and this empowers the workforce to take the initiative on their end and deliver on their promise all by themselves.
Leadership vs Middle management & Workforce
A misaligned organization where the middle management and workforce are in symbiotic, but they lack clarity in the management’s vision for the organization. This situation is more evident when the above scenario goes unaddressed for a long time, and the initial founding team has moved from middle management to an executive position, while their immediate successors get promoted to middle management. Here, the executives continue to have constant contact with the leadership and participate in the overall vision and take stakes, while the middle management has an amicable relationship with their formal colleagues, they too are left out of the loop when it comes to transparency and clarity of vision.
This structure results in the form of corporate governance over corporate management, where each department under every executive starts acting as a separate state, and each of the executives starts working like governors of their state. So instead of having synchronous marketing, sales, support, and product team. You have four different states, and each state takes the next course of action from a higher authority ultimately leading to its governor. This bureaucracy leads to the problem of miscommunication between the leadership and the workforce. If the managers are not presented with a roadmap, they start imagining one, and each one comes up with their version of it, which ultimately gets fed to the workforce and the team.
The executives who are short on time and pressed for results, end up piling instructions instead of directions to their subordinates and trigger a chain reaction where the entire workforce starts treating their work as executing a set of instructions over collaborative contribution. Though this may fetch them short-term results, it affects the efficiency and quality of work across the organization in the long term.
Adopting OKRs in such a case scenario would bring the upper and middle management into the same table along with the leadership and the workforce. Once the goals are clear, then everyone is clear as to what is expected of them and starts bringing involuntary contribution as soon as they take ownership.
Fully aligned organization
Adopting OKRs in all the above scenario, will make your organization and work environment a collaborative, co-owned entity where all your employees accountable and responsible for their work. This framework ensures the quality of work with organizational alignment.
Though OKRs are an overall positive shift, it does not come without it’s set of impediments. OKR process is a framework and not a commandment. There is no one right way to do OKRs, but a set of suggested best practices.
OKRs cannot solve your problems by itself. Like any tool, the longer you use it, the better you get at using it. OKRs allow goals to be tracked quarterly, half yearly or annually. The changes expected in your organization will not come as fast as you want them to, but with OKRs you can rest assured they will slowly get integrated into your company’s workflow.
It requires commitment from all stages of hierarchy. Since OKR is a company-wide framework that involves aligning every member of the workforce around one common purpose, it requires active participation from all the members in the team. However, once you adopt it, you’ll keep going back to it for all the right reasons!
WHAT DOES UPSHOTLY HAVE THAT OTHER TOOLS DO NOT?
Helps you track progress every day and optimize for improvement.
If setting your goals gives you clarity of vision, always knowing your progress tells you how far you have traversed in the path of your goals. To borrow an analogy, let us presume the goals you set are like the navigation system in your car, they tell you precisely where you want to reach. However, you still need to know your fuel gauge to tell you the reserve fuel you have, the odometer to say to you the distance you have traveled and the speedometer to help you control your speed. If Goals are your GPS, then KPIs are your indicators. They give you measurable, quantifiable metrics that help measure your progress at all times. A growing business is like a race car going at maximum speed to beat its competition, but with different individuals handling each of its functionalities and is also speeding on the highway. The only thing keeping it in synchronization is your leadership. After setting a goal and drafting a timeline, many people stop in their tracks and never actually make any progress toward their goal. Only about half of your employees care about updating progress, and those quoted numbers are often inflated. The only way to get them engaged more is by creating a sense of accountability. People who share personal ownership or even make an agreement with a colleague are more likely to achieve their workplace goals.
Upshotly is the only tool that automatically updates Key Results from all your favorite tools, thus allowing you and your workforce to eliminate useless daily rituals and focus time on what they already do best!