Ring in the New Year with a Cup of Cheer, Spiked with Truth Serum

on December 13, 2019

Root Inc. recently ran a survey asking members of the workforce to name their organization’s top priority for 2020. We expected answers such as grow shareholder value, manage costs more effectively, increase partnerships with customers to provide new solutions, and create a performance-based culture. However, the results weren’t exactly what we expected.

32% of respondents – the majority – said sales or make money. This was closely followed by profitability (15% of respondents). With very little exception, the majority of respondents (nearly 50%) focused on financials.

What do you think your people are really saying?

Million-Dollar Strategies Boiled Down to One Word

The financial elements didn’t surprise us because most organizations want to have sales, make money, and grow. What was interesting was the language respondents used. The survey takers’ responses broke down into three simple categories, which were:

  • Sell
  • Make money
  • Show a profit

Leaders spend umpteen months and millions of dollars working with some of the biggest management consulting firms on their 2020 strategies, while their people boiled it all down to sales, making money, and profitability. What happened to those vision statements, their purpose, their values? What about those 50-slide PowerPoint decks they spent weeks perfecting with their communications teams and the hours spent in townhalls presenting to their people?

Over the course of reviewing the survey responses, I saw only a handful that offered more detail. The most detailed response we received said, “We have to make more sales and profits than we have this year, while also keeping the customers satisfied.” This isn’t to say that I expected long, word-for-word vision statements regurgitated in the response field of the surveys.

Lost in Translation

I’m curious about how leaders would react if they could see their people’s responses to this question. Would they say, “Yup, that’s spot on! They’re clearly getting the message we’re sending,” or, “Yes, of course we want to make money, but it seems like they missed all of the information leading up to how we’re going to do that.” We know business priorities stem from the strategy. If the strategic goal is to grow sales by 15% in the next year, then the strategy is how we’re going to do it and the priorities are the key focus points that will get us there, right? This is Business 101. But something’s getting lost in translation as it trickles down to the front line. Why is that?

What are you doing to help your people connect the dots between activating your strategy and making money?

Here are some suggestions.

  • Stop the Whack-a-Mole Game. I can’t tell you the number of times in my career that we kept getting mixed signals from leaders on business priorities. Start by making sure your leadership team is clear, consistent and, most importantly, by discussing it with your next-level leaders.
  • We, Not Me. Functional priorities should never exceed business priorities. As Root’s co-founder likes to say, “Own the whole before your piece.” You might think it’s obvious (but it’s surprisingly not), but make sure those functional priorities connect to the business priorities. Otherwise, you’re just wasting energy and resource investments. Don’t forget to talk with (not tell) your direct reports about those priorities and how their teams support them.
  • More Minds = Better Results. Managers lead change, not leaders. The people who control the levers of the front line have the best ideas on how to successfully bring those strategic priorities to life. But they can’t do that if they don’t know or understand where they should focus, and they certainly can’t give the right message to their people if they don’t understand it themselves.
  • Stop Playing (Telephone) Games. Remember the reference to lost in translation? Cascading information in a company is just like the telephone game, except that instead of a line of 10 people, it’s a line of 100, 1,000, or 10,000 people. No wonder it seems like gibberish sometimes. Give your front line the same information, data, or context – whatever you want to call it – that you have as a leader and talk with them about it.

Make Room for Improvement in 2020

Maybe some of this is obvious. Maybe some of it we think we’re already doing. Maybe some of it we didn’t even realize we should be doing. Regardless, these survey responses give us the opportunity to pause and do a little analysis. There’s always room for improvement, even in the most successful companies.

As we embark on a new year and a new decade, we have an opportunity to truly listen to what our people are saying and engage them in the business priorities that are most important to our success in the new year.

Happy New Year!

Thinking

Culture
Developing Leaders and Managers
Employee Engagement