Are Your Goals Centralized?
Why Goal Setting for Managers Must Centralize Purpose
Ever feel like you’re on an island in the office? You know, everyone seems to be battling for their own needs and there’s a constant demand for your help, but rarely an offer of assistance in return?
Having experienced it myself first hand, I think it’s fair to say that people generally mean well and that ultimately, people want to do a good job. The caveat to this, however, is that individual responsibilities will take priority over helping another when there is a conflict.
While the benefits of a matrix organization include things like resource pooling and functional excellence, matrix structures come with their share of challenges. One of the primary challenges we are examining here is the natural creation of silos in a matrix structure and their tendency to create competing goals within an organization. During a recent visit with a client, I had the ‘opportunity’ to witness this conflict first hand.
The Standard Leadership Team Meeting
During I sat through a regularly scheduled leadership team meeting. The standard structure for the weekly leadership staff meetings were a once-a-month review of each function’s metrics, issues and highlights. Each week, two of three different department heads would get up in the front of the room and discuss their various metrics and scorecards, highlight trends and share action plans in response to data.
As a bit of foreshadowing, I had attended this meeting previously and recalled watching a general disrespect for the presenter slowly forming over a period of months. It was nothing personal, but I noticed more and more that people were multitasking during others’ presentations; attendees were coming in late, leaving early; and that the agenda was loosely followed, with one or two managers frequently interjecting their ‘issue’ as an urgent topic of discussion. It’s clearly understood that people in management positions are busy and that there are conflicts for time. But the obvious issue with these meetings – consisting of higher level managers, business unit leaders and other individuals with a large amount of responsibility – was the gradual decline in support, alignment and their overall productivity.
The Surfacing of Conflict
Last week, it came to a head. The presenter, known to be somewhat fiery, abruptly stepped away from the podium about ten minutes into his slide content and called people out.
“Folks, I have an issue. When I stopped on that last topic, I only had one person’s attention, and there are 12 of you in here” he said. Everyone had their laptop up and was clearly typing away and not listening to him speak. “If this is not important enough, I’ll just sit down and we’ll move on to something else, no problem.”
Another manager, who had been ‘multitasking’ as they say, promptly defended herself by stating she was in meetings all day. She continued by saying she had already seen these metrics and was trying to catch up on emails. The functional leaders then entered in a lengthy debate of what was important, who had final say and ultimately, that things were not working well. It was a mutual feel shared by virtually everyone in the room.
As I sat back and watched (I had actually been wondering why it had taken so long for the conversation to occur, having witnessed the team slowly fracture for months) it was readily apparent to me that the root of the problem was nothing personal or the skills of the managers on the leadership team. Rather, the source of the problem was misalignment of their individual priorities and goals, an issue that impacts many organizations.
The Source of the Problem
As it turned out, each functional manager in the room had metrics and goals to deliver to the business, but few of them were actually tied to one another. For example, the supply chain manager’s goals were to reduce inventory and negotiate lower costs from suppliers. The engineering manager’s goals were to produce patents and develop new products quickly. The quality manager’s goals pursued reductions in scrap material, ensured product integrity and maintained overall conformance to certifications held by the company. Sure, all of these things are important to the business, but with such diversity lack of unity was inevitable.
We discussed an actual example of how misaligned goals impact organization performance previously at the Manager’s Resource Handbook, and concluded that for organizations to function well and for accountability to be equal, alignment of individual objectives was crucial. The experience I had watching this team was a classic example of what happens when organizations poorly align the objectives of their people, or at least outline too many ‘high priority’ initiatives.
The Impact of Poor Goal Alignment
The purpose of goals is to define central and mission-critical objectives that an organization must achieve. In order to be successful, business leaders and managers need to ensure that all employees are aligned to this central objective. Success means that the activities, needs and goals of all employees should be mutual and shared.
In contrast, the absence of alignment of goals effectively undermines the team since there is no collective purpose. Everyone is off doing their own thing, focused and prioritizing their needs over the needs of others on a regular basis. As was the case with the meeting I sat through, it was clear that there was no shared objective, resulting in a leadership team that was just a group of individuals.
So that I do not sound too utopian, centralizing goals down to the critical few is not easy, particularly for very large organizations. Businesses are far more complex entities than just saying ‘everyone grow the top line sales and we’ll be just fine.’ In the case of the staff meeting I sat through, there actually were higher level goals including things like superior financial performance and sales growth and customer satisfaction, to name a couple examples. For each function in the matrix structure, however, these top level objectives grew into a list of projects and initiatives there were in simply too lengthy (approximately 20 different ‘important’ goals for each person in this case). Resources were finite, of course, but objectives were expansive. Such a long list of ‘important’ objectives effectively gave every manager minimal time and energy to focus. The end result was the formulation of an ‘every man for himself’ culture.
Successful Goal Setting
When setting goals within a matrix structure, it’s important to not be greedy. If your list of priorities and initiatives is in excess of a key four of five, you will effectively dilute the focus within the organization such that you risk completion and quality of work. From here, each high level objective should have a few key projects that are agreed upon across functions. For example, if cost reduction is defined as a key objective, every manager should have some sort of assignment in support of a handful of cost reduction projects. At the end of the meeting, the participants agreed that an off-site sessions to revisit their goals and responsibilities was warranted in order to reinforce the key few business objectives.
So here we have yet another example of how organizational goals need to be centralized and carefully woven to align. What other examples have you seen?