Keys to high performing teams part 3 – Align personal and organisational goals


Align personal and organisational goals.This is the third in a series of posts exploring 10 keys to getting high performing teams. This one looks at the third key: aligning personal goals with organisational goals.

A recent article in Fast Company magazine made some interesting points about the “onboarding” (orientation for new employees) process and challenged the conventional practice. Currently the emphasis is helping the newcomer understanding the organisation’s practices, values and people, so that they can quickly learn to fit in.

However, drawing on Positive Psychology research, the authors of an academic paper titled Breaking Them In or Eliciting Their Best? found that current practice leads to people performing less than optimally in the job.

That’s because by emphasising the organisation’s identity (rather than placing an equal emphasis on what is important to the employee), people tend to assume a work identity that is inauthentic. It’s like putting on a mask along with your work clothes.

For most of us, this is so normal that we might not see where the problem is. After all, it is mostly just continuing habits we learned at school where if you didn’t fit in you risked being shamed or bullied.

However, the research shows that being authentic is important because

  • Doing stuff that feels inauthentic drains your brain power
  • When you are drained from coping from inauthenticity, you will either quit physically or underperform to the extent that you might as well not be there.
  • People who feel authentic are more committed to their work

How do we feel authentic? It’s when our inner experiences, our feelings, values and perspectives, are aligned with our outward expression – in the work we do and with the people we are around.

Getting to that place of authenticity is a key part of the Enhancing Their Gifts system, and is one of the reasons why the productivity gains are so huge.

To be able to align an individual’s values with the organisation’s values requires at least two things:

  1. The organisation has to know what its values are (and No, money is not a value, it is a means to an end)
  2. There has to be a conversation (usually more than one) between the individual and the organisation.

A common objection might be: “Everybody’s values are different. How can we accommodate all those different values?” Well, yes and no. When I was running leadership courses in Eastern Europe in the 1990s we would spend some time helping each participant unpacking their personal values. For most it was a big “Ah Ha” moment when they saw how much in common they all had.  In fact many basic values are universal and found across all cultures and religions. That is good news, because it means that if the organisation is already aligned with these you will already have a large amount of common ground with your employees (and also your customers, suppliers and other stakeholders).

And you don’t have to reinvent the wheel here. There are several already agreed “principles for business” out there which could be a starting point, such as the Caux Round Table Principles for Business, the SA 8000 standard and the ISO 26000 standard.

There are lots of documented benefits to doing this work. According to Social Branding company We First:

  • Meaningful brands outperform the market by 120%
  • 81% consider Corporate Social Responsibility when deciding where to work
  • 54% say their company’s purpose is not clearly conveyed to employees
  • 68% do not think that businesses do enough to instil a sense of meaningful purpose in their work culture.

The second part of the formula – having the right conversations between individuals and the organisation – is not always straightforward. Many people have not thought about what their values are.  One of the techniques used in the Enhancing Their Gifts system is the Significant Moments conversation, where you invite someone to share some of the significant moments in their life which have shaped the person they are today. It helps if you can model this first, and the more authentic (and vulnerable) you are willing to be in modelling this, the more likely you are to get an authentic response.  When done well, in a safe and respectful environment, this can lead to a depth of connection seldom reached among work colleagues. And by inviting people to tell their stories, they often reveal what is important to them – whether it is family, fishing, or supporting a shelter for abused women.

Then comes the next part, inviting that passion into the workplace and aligning the personal and organisational goals so that the organisation helps support the individual towards their goals and the individual supports the organisation towards its goals. It should be a genuine win-win understanding and the key to its effectiveness is that it is personal.

For example, if one of the things that is important to you is family, there is a big difference between an impersonal agreement that “all employees are entitled to take up to _ hours unpaid leave to attend funerals and medical emergencies for immediate family” and the knowledge that your colleagues and boss have heard you speak about your family and that they really get that it is important to you.

When an organisation gets this right, and invites people’s authentic and whole selves into the workplace, then there are huge gains in energy, motivation and engagement. It also sets the right foundations for accountability conversations, which will be the subject of a future post.

Mike Lowe
Helping individuals and teams get into flow

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