To Be a Better Leader, Target Impact
December 6, 2017
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The author and leadership scholar Simon Sinek was onto something when he wrote “Genius is the idea. Impact, however, comes from action.” Higher revenue, razor-sharp priorities, greater brand loyalty from customers: companies only achieve these and other much-desired hallmarks of impact when their leaders and people take the necessary steps to make them happen.
Most business leaders I know think a lot about impact as an idea, but less about the actions that underpin it. I saw this recently while working with a client I’ll call Greg.
Greg was recently promoted to run a software business unit at a global technology company with a fairly new team responsible for driving the sales and fulfillment of their flagship product line. The team was ramping up and struggling with consistent execution and maintaining its focus on the customer. Greg knew he needed a new and better way to help the management team focus on improvements, but he didn’t know where to start. In the simplest terms, he didn’t know what to do to get his team to move to that higher level of impact.
Greg is a fairly common example of leadership issues today. Recent research by PwC shows that only 8% of leaders excel at both strategy and execution; at the same time, 67% of senior leaders can’t name their company’s priorities. In a sea of work stress and what is often called “corporate life events” (re-orgs, executive transitions, mergers, product launches, etc.), the essential tasks of prioritizing and strategizing can go out the window. But these initiatives are critical to long-term success as both a manager and a business.
Impact’s Drivers: Direction, Alignment and Performance
Teams that make the biggest business impact have mastered what we at RallyBright define as these three essential drivers: direction, alignment and performance.
- These teams share a clear purpose, or direction, and agree on their core behaviors. This makes them purposeful, priority-minded and collaborative.
- They’re aligned in the sense that they understand their customers and other stakeholders, and agree on the overall strategy of their business. Well-aligned teams can sense, adapt and respond to data and insights to clearly navigate their way to better success.
- Finally, high-impact teams regularly meet or exceed goals. They are decisive and have a significant bias for action. These teams consistently perform and get things done.
So what’s the cost to teams when they fall down on direction, alignment and performance? We have some idea.
- In enterprise settings, for example, up to 85% of employee activity has been traced back to largely unnecessary tasks that were often the result of suddenly shifted priorities (last-minute meetings, new and supposedly urgent projects, etc.). That’s a significant percentage of wasted effort.
- Other studies have similar findings. One found that 7.5 of every 10 minutes an average employee spends are unproductive, largely due to a lack of alignment between “assigned tasks” and “value to business.”
- Similarly, misalignment around people issues can cost companies big—an average of $15.5M/year, according to one senior executive survey.
3 Ways to Boost Team Impact
We know there’s a problem with impact, so now what? As a leader, you can bypass a lot of wasted time, effort and money by honing your focus on those three drivers of impact. Consider these three easy-to-implement suggestions to keep the focus on impact.
1. Talk to your team about the big picture
Whether you’re a new manager or have significant experience leading your team, set a meeting to talk as a group about these questions:
- What can this team do together that no one member could achieve alone? (The answer to this is your team’s shared purpose.)
- What are the three to five key behaviors that show you are all “living” this purpose?
Once those definitions are drafted, revisit them quarterly to make sure any strategic drifts away from them are corrected, or to accommodate and document any purposeful shifts. This will help to ensure clear understanding by all team members and to maintain direction and alignment.
2. (Really) Understand your customer
“Customer experience” and a “customer-first mindset” have become buzz phrases in recent years, and the idea behind the buzz is increasingly valid. Research suggests that customer experience is now more valuable to a company than their branding, which makes sense: your revenue comes directly from your customers. You need to be responding to their pain points.
For growing companies, however, a problem arises: those that reach $5B in revenue typically have 14 layers of staff between the customer and the CEO. We’ve all seen firsthand how communication can suffer in a workplace, and 14 layers is a big game of telephone.
What you need as a high-impact manager is a way to get information from the customer level (surveys, focus groups, Google Analytics, purchase data by week, etc.) directly into your team discussions. You should ideally lead team discussions with customer-driven data so that you ingrain the idea that your team is serving the customer, and team benefits/perks come from that. So keep your team focused foremost on goals directly related to the customer.
3. Quantify early and often
Leadership dashboards are popular and powerful tools these days, but you don’t necessarily need to buy software to make meaningful measurements. Start by identifying the top three to five priorities for your team and their corresponding metrics. For example, metrics for a sales function might be revenue generated, calls made per week or margin contribution. For marketers, you might capture new leads generated or content produced. Track these metrics in a shared spreadsheet that you update regularly, and discuss results with your team on a quarterly basis.
By getting started with these impact-focused to-dos, you’ll be helping your team members do better, which will help yourself do better, which will in turn help your overall organization do better.
Get a quantified and benchmarked snapshot of your team’s strengths and challenges so you can focus on the improvements that matter most to your bottom line. Sign up for a free demo of RallyBright’s Resilient Teams™ assessment.