Building Links to Achieve Shared Goals

Michael Couch
President
Michael Couch and Associates Inc.
Pittsburgh, PA

Dear Mr. Consultant,

What are organizations doing to link people together across functions to go after business goals?

Signed,
Perplexed Leader

Dear Perplexed Leader,

You are not alone. This issue has perplexed other leaders. Thankfully, I’ve seen plenty of examples where leaders were able to build strong links.

The best example I’ve seen of building links inside organizations to achieve shared goals has been in organizations that follow good Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma practices (often combined and called Lean Six Sigma). The process is typically called Strategy Deployment and uses a variety of tools to assure that every employee in the business understands the business strategy, priorities, and the role that they play in achieving them.

The practice of Lean Six Sigma naturally builds bridges inside the organization. It emphasizes focusing on the customer, viewing business as a series of cross-functional processes, and doing continuous improvement work in multi-disciplinary teams. It also reinforces the importance of linking those bridges to key stakeholders outside of the business, namely customers and suppliers.

A typical Strategy Deployment effort starts with the company’s strategy and annual business plan. The key initiatives in the plan are clearly defined and then a process is followed to cascade those priorities down through the organization. Each function clearly defines the role they play in achieving the desired results and the measure that they will track to gauge progress. (Those measures are also linked to the overall measures that the company will track.) In some cases, each employee or team of employee builds their own annual performance plan based on the priorities as well. This process is sometimes referred to the “catch ball” process, following concepts developed by Toyota.

Balanced scorecards or linked “dashboards” are typical measurement components in the Strategy Deployment process. The measures include the leading and lagging indicators that reflect the progress being made on the strategy and business plan. The measures reflect whether key business processes are under control (meeting customer requirements) and are used to kick off improvement initiatives if they go “out of control”. The dashboards can be posted in each work area and discussed in regular business, department, and team meetings, assuring that everyone stays focused on the shared goals. I’ve seen some effective examples in manufacturing facilities where the measures are posted in every work cell. Each shift starts with a team meeting around the dashboards talking about progress on the measures and actions that can be taken to “move the needle”.

I’ve also implemented this process to link/align shared goals in businesses that did not follow Lean Six Sigma principles. It follows very much the same process but without the rigor. The strategy and annual business plan form the basis of each business unit or functions plan that is then cascaded down to performance plans for each individual or work team. The goals and performance plans often serve as the measures in determining variable and base compensation.

Some of my thoughts on the keys to building links to achieve shared goals:

  1. Keep a focus on a “greater good” that can serve to break down functional barriers. The greater good is best defined from a customer’s perspective or by referring back to the mission of the organization.
  2. Use a process that builds a clear and simple linkage and alignment throughout the organization so everyone and every team knows the role they play in business success. This helps clarify accountability and assures execution.
  3. Build a sound set of business measures – both leading and lagging – that can track progress and pinpoint variances that need to be addressed. This can also contribute to breaking down cross-functional issues.
  4. Build the agenda of regular business meetings around the shared goals. What’s on track, what’s off track, and what corrective action needs to be taken. This is also a good time to review and revise plans, particularly if action on the lead measures is not showing up in the lags.
  5. Develop a communication plan that clearly defines the messages, audiences, media, timing, and responsibility for the key parts of the strategy and business plan. This goes a long way in making sure key stakeholders understand shared goals.
  6. Employ a disciplined process to address those that can’t “get on board” or block the building of bridges, particularly those in mission critical roles or processes. Don’t waste time trying to develop these blockers. Just get them out of the way.
  7. Building accountability into the alignment process. This can be reinforced through linked performance management and compensation practices.
  8. Identify the leadership competencies required to build effective strategies, create internal links, get the message across and coach others to achieve shared goals. Build those competencies into talent selection, promotion, and development processes.

Happy Link Building,

Consultant