Initially, the title of this article may elicit a “no-duh” response. Of course, people want to be successful. The challenge is in the definition of the word “successful.” It can be significantly different for each individual, and it is easy for any of us to assume that others define it the same way that we do. Definitions can vary from the desire to remain employed to the desire to make enough money to retire comfortably early. When individuals do not respond as we think they should in order to meet our individual success criteria, often we question their commitment instead of trying to understand why they are not responding as we think they should.
Except, perhaps for the founders, success starts out as an individual goal. People want to be successful themselves. This is not contrary to the “team first” mantra that we often hear from team sport athletes and in business forums. It is simply a reality that reflects the fact that we all have our own individual egos and the desire to maintain a feeling of pride with our accomplishments. As discussed in the article in this series “What is Success,” individuals do not wake up in the morning, turn off their alarm clocks, put their feet on the floor, stretch, and then say to themselves “I think I will have a bad day today.” To the contrary, they will start the day planning to “move forward” and have a positive impact for themselves and the company. Their focus on success can, in fact, actually become counterproductive to the entire organization if success goals are not carefully aligned and communicated.
As an example of a potential area of misalignment, individuals can become focused on optimizing their individual or department goals independent of the impact on the overall company. Every company will have some process or activity that limits their ability to meet or exceed their goals. They are commonly called bottlenecks. It could be new product releases, manufacturing, distribution, fulfillment, or support. The limiting factor can and often does change over time. It does little good for all of the other non-critical elements to continue to exceed their goals if another element is limiting the overall company. However, in many organizations, departments or individuals are not willing to “pitch in” and help the other critical path elements. In noted business author Eliyahu M. Goldratt’s book “Theory of Constraints” an excellent description of this problem and a practical method of addressing it is described and is well worth reading.
At the opposite end of the spectrum is the problem of “too many cooks in the kitchen” in which some well-meaning individuals will take it upon themselves to “help” by addressing a problem or some limiting element. In many cases, management teams and individuals are overly concerned with issues “falling through the cracks” and not being addressed properly. In reality, the opposite is most commonly the cases. Instead of too many cracks, there are too many overlaps in which different departments or individuals believe they have responsibility for an activity resulting in redundant and often conflicting activities pursued in parallel. The problem is that are not too many cooks in the kitchen, instead there are not enough chefs coordinating the well-meaning efforts of the cooks!
A method to address the “not enough chefs” issue is to clearly establish who has the overall responsibility for the activity and informing all participants who that person is as well as the overall goal. Given clear direction and understanding, the overlaps can disappear while leaving no cracks. As an example, one company actually wrote the title of each project on individual baseballs and gave each one to the individual that was responsible for each activity. It became quickly clear to everyone in the organization “who had the ball” at any given time. As projects progressed, the balls were transferred to others. When the project was complete or the issue was addressed, the baseball was “retired.”
In young, high growth organizations, especially new employees are likely to be highly motivated and exhibit a “whatever it takes” attitude. Helping them to understand the overall company success goals and how they can specifically contribute can harness their energy. A key ingredient to optimizing everyone’s energy is to help them understand how their individual definitions of success can relate to the overall company. Put the company’s goals into a context that becomes personal for every individual and then get out of their way and watch the organization flourish.