Do you ever wonder how some organizations navigate through tough challenges better than others? The ones that do it really well seem to not only adapt to their customers emerging needs but effectively bring along their teams and retain their culture.
Laura Doehle is passionate about helping business leaders find their northstar and then laying out a roadmap to get them there. And it starts with having a clear purpose.
Enjoy my recent In My Network interview with Laura!
When and how did we first meet?
We were introduced to each other by a mutual connection back in 2017. I was with Resourceful and you were at Tangelo exploring ways to get support while you were experiencing explosive growth.
Tell us a little bit about your background and how it prepared you for the work you are doing today as a consultant.
Throughout my career, I have been focused on helping businesses succeed. I have always looked at the impact I was having across the entire organization and how my role and work was helping the business achieve its goals. Prior to starting Elevation Business Consulting, I was heading up sales and running the day-to-day operations of an outsourced HR firm. It was in that role that I was able to experience making the business owner’s vision actionable. Now I have the pleasure of helping a variety of different businesses align their vision, strategy, and operations. It is exciting to guide business owners’ closer to making their business dreams real.
I've noticed that leaders sometimes are challenged with clearly articulating a vision yet it's so essential to getting everyone on the same page. What are some ways or tools a leader can use to harness their vision?
The hardest part about articulating the vision is making something that is incredibly clear and obvious in the business leaders’ head become that way for all the employees. A key part of harnessing that vision and getting the team on the same page is writing it down. What is the purpose or mission of the organization? What are the core values of the organization? What does the organization look like in 3, 5 or 10 years? Write down the details that are in your head. Once they are words, you can create a language to communicate it with the rest of the team and have a reference for guiding decisions for everyone on the team.
The other key is to articulate the vision regularly. Too often business leaders give a rousing, inspiring speech, lay out the details for the future of the company, get everyone on the team excited and never follow through on how that articulates to their daily tasks. It is important that every presentation, every meeting be focused around the purpose, values, and future direction of the business and that everyone knows exactly how their role helps the business achieve that vision.
How can leaders connect their vision to goals for the team? I've been in some organizations where there was a disconnect.
The disconnect problem is real, Christine. It is quite common for leaders to spell out a vision but never drill down on how team members’ roles support achieving that goal. Once the big picture and the “why” is communicated, each team member needs to receive support in evaluating how their role supports that effort, and have their priorities determined based on what will move the business closer to vision. Managers need to be checking in and supporting team members efforts on those priorities. Everyday and every interaction needs to reinforce what is important in moving the business towards that vision.
In today's environment, we have to be super nimble. How can a leader stay true to their vision in the fast changing climate?
A vision is different from strategic initiatives. Strategic initiatives need to change as forces push you in different directions, but it should all be for the same purpose and uphold the same values. You are seeing many organizations pivot significantly and incredibly quickly in light of COVID-19. They are now making PPE or ventilators or hand sanitizer. Most of those companies have values driving their decisions. Whenever a strategic shift decision is made, the values of the company should hold up. If the values are ignored for those big decisions, then they really are not core values.
What is an organizational purpose and how is that different from a vision? An organization's purpose is why it exists. It articulates the impact the organization will have on it's customer or clients or whomever it serves. It is typically articulated with external facing language. Vision is where you are going or what you aspire to be as an organization. Data tells us that employee commitment and level of effort are often tied to their understanding of how their work ties to the company's purpose. What are some ways that leaders can help employees see how their work connects to the organizational purpose?
Most of us want to know that what we do matters. It's easy for employees to lack commitment when they feel like a cog in a wheel or that their piece of the puzzle isn't adding anything of value. Helping employees feel connected to the purpose of a company is to articulate or show how their individual work actually affects the customers or clients the organization is serving. When spelling out the expectations of any role, there should be discussion about how the work will impact others on the team and the organization's ability to achieve its goals. When leaders are speaking to their team, they need to connect the dots of how the work has made an impact. Case studies or testimonials from customers, or even a personal story from an end user, on how the organization had an impact on them goes a long way in helping employees see how they contribute to the purpose.
Consistent execution and accountability are critical to goal achievement. Can you share a story where this didn't happen and what was the result?
I was at an organization that had a strong process for generating revenue. There was a desire to grow the business line, but there were not mechanisms for ensuring the process was followed or improvements were happening. Revenue was falling. Periodically there would be a big push on the process and revenue would jump. Without consistent execution or follow through, revenue would stagnate or fall again. Activities or progress on a weekly basis were not tracked so there was no way to fully appreciate the impact of the process. Finally, as revenue stagnated in a hot market, we prioritized following the process and created tools for tracking activity and measuring progress. Once we had the data on our current state and created a goal for where we wanted to go, we had a means of monitoring progress. Regular reviews of the data created an atmosphere of accountability and revenue increased as a result.
What ideas do you have to keep goals front and center?
To keep goals front and center, they need to be front and center. Many organizations have a whiteboard that lists out what the company and/or team’s goals are. Unfortunately, when we are not physically in the office, it is hard to have that central whiteboard. Some collaboration tools have a dashboard component that can show the goals and progress towards them, or you can have a spreadsheet that everyone has access to. Regardless of whether you have a physical whiteboard or some central file in the cloud, you must review the goals and progress in regular meetings. Whether it is the daily standup, weekly leadership call, or monthly one-on-ones, reviewing progress towards the goals is a requirement. Evaluating what is moving forward and what is stalled is the only way to hold people accountable to the goals and have a fighting chance of achieving the goals.
Thanks for dropping your wisdom with us Laura! It's time for your rapid fire round.
What you do to unplug: Hike or ski
Favorite weekend activity: Backpacking or skiing
Where you grew up: Solon, OH an east side suburb of Cleveland
"Go to" leadership book: That's tough - I'm constantly reading those so I don't have one "go to". Most recently I read The Go-Giver and thought that was pretty powerful. Blue Ocean Strategy is also pretty high.
A leader you admire: Michelle Obama