We never formally discussed culture or wrote down values, purpose, mission or even a goal for our Olympic campaign.
We were utterly focussed on the playing process. Which, of course, is incredibly important.
But, in hindsight, to not put anything down on paper, no goal, no result, nothing at all?
It seems an extraordinary oversight.
Would it have dialled up pressure to explicitly state that we were chasing a gold medal?
[Although in contrast, in the lead up to Athens Olympics, I read this story of Michael Johnson, the American sprinter, who was the first person to win both the 200m and 400m races in the same Olympics in Atlanta.
He wrote in his book, Slaying The Dragon, about explicitly choosing to own the goal and publicly discuss his dual gold medal aspirations prior to the race. Rather than denying it, Michael felt better equiped to accept and own the pressure that came with it.
I found this useful even just owning my goal to make the Olympic team.]
And in no way does just writing down the goal mean it will be accomplished.
That’s like saying just visualise something and it will happen. Action is definitely required.
Future goals are most useful as decision making tools in the present.
One question to cut right to it is:
Will this choice, right now, move me towards or away from my goal?
Simple, but not easy.
But goals can come with some baggage…
The tension of goals
There can be an inherent tension in setting goals.
There might be the fear of big-noting yourself or your team.
There might be the challenge of setting the goal too big, or too small, or is it the right one? (Sport has the unique characteristic of knowing what constitutes a win. That can be harder to determine in other areas of life eg business, relationships etc. It’s one of the reasons why sport, while useful, will always be a limited analogy.)
There might also be the question: Do the ends justify the means?
Like Lance Armstrong doing whatever it took to win the Tour De France using some of the most sophisticated cheating in sporting history. Ultimately erased from the record of cycling completely.
Or the Netflix documentary, The Last Dance, that showed what Michael Jordan was willing to do to win at the Chicago Bulls.
Or in business, the corporate collapses and ethical breaches.
But as human stories? They leave me feeling sad. For the price individuals and the people around them pay along the way and often continue to pay even now, years later.
I’ve written previously about the potential costs of perseverance for perseverance’s sake.
I’ve also been privileged to see behind some incredible trophy cabinets in my coaching work.
There is no doubt in my mind that people eventually pay a price for pursuing goals for goals sake – in health, relationships, work and communities.
But all of that is not to say that goals are bad. They’re not. They can be incredibly powerful.
So how can we use goals productively?
How do we temper the ends with the means?
From everything I’ve learned, my short answer to that is to combine goals to be in service of values, purpose and an envisioned future contribution to the greater good.
One of my favourite reference points for marrying the destination with the path is Jim Collins’ Vision Framework from his intensely researched, multi-million copy bestselling books Entrepreneurship 2.0 and Good To Great.
The research showed that it was a combination of factors that worked rather than any single element in isolation.
The four component parts of his Vision Framework are:
- BHAG (a Big Hairy Audacious Goal) and
- Envisioned Future
The challenge of defining culture
I was speaking with an extremely senior executive. They had spent many months and millions of dollars with tens of thousands of people involved to redefine the culture of a global organisation.
Defining culture is incredibly important work.
As the legendary management author Peter Drucker once said:
Culture eats strategy for breakfast.
But in this instance, it all came unravelled in a crisis a few years later.
Because even after these investments, many of these end up as “words on a wall”, tokenistic statements that no one references or people don’t truly understand or know how to put into practice each day.
Jim Collins observed:
Executives spend too much time drafting, word smithing, and redrafting vision statements, mission statements, values statements, purpose statements, aspiration statements, and so on. They spend nowhere near enough time trying to align their organizations with the values and visions already in place. [Bolding mine]
Having said that, culture needs to be defined so it can be practiced, developed and supported.
So how can we do that quickly? And how can we begin to immediately put it into practice?
30 min workshop for small teams
While Jim Collins’ research focussed on a business/organisation building context, I’ve found the same framework applies to individuals and small teams.
For small teams without the resources to undertake exhaustive processes, defining culture can be a hurdle to creating the shared understanding and alignment needed.
Over the last 18 months, I’ve been trialling a new way to spin up culture for small teams (from 2-30 people) to create alignment and buy-in as quickly as possible.
I’ve intentionally dropped the Envisioned Future for now as this is something that can be developed later on.
I’ve personally run this with varied groups:
- Two founders defining culture for a solar company.
- A national Australian squad of 22 players
- Year 12 school sporting squads of between 8 and 30 players.
I even know a coach who ran this with his u/12 soccer team in 30 mins before a training session with great buy in from players and parents alike.
The workshop is a series of questions asked of the group:
- BHAG: What is our goal? (What are we trying to achieve as a group?)
- Purpose: Why is that goal important to us? (What is our greater purpose?)
- Values: What are our values? (How do we want to walk the path towards the goal? How do we want to act day to day while pursuing the goal?)
- What is one thing we could do every day that would help us to reflect on our Purpose, Values and Goal?
- How else might we bring our Purpose, Values and Goal to life every day?
Depending on the group size and age, this can be run anywhere from 30 mins to 2 hours.
How to run it
- You’ll need a whiteboard or flip chart and pens. (I’ve also ran this with a document on a screen in person or shared screen on video meeting.) The main thing is that everyone needs to be able to see it.
- Ideally participants are the ones doing the capturing and documenting to create an additional sense of ownership throughout. But having a dedicated scribe can accelerate the process.
- Work through each question one at a time.
- Have people make notes privately before sharing/discussing their answers with the group.
- Once answers are recorded where everyone can see them, use voting to cull it back to the most important responses to each question. Tallies are fine.
- Allocate someone to put it all in a document.
The output should be no more than a single page – the Vision Framework for your team.
Some groups go to further lengths to answer questions around celebration of success (in aligned behaviours, not just goals achieved) and consequences (of misaligned behaviours) but these are often hard to nail down because values aligned behaviour is so contextual (eg speaking up in one context and being quiet in another).
Putting it into practice
The discovery process is often exciting and engaging. But, as always, putting it into practice is the hardest part. Which is why the final two questions of the workshop focus on immediate implementation.
There are a myriad of ways to put a vision framework into practice.
Here are some examples:
- A different person reading out the one pager at the start of each training session.
- Huddling as a group to reflect on the framework prior to a session.
- Pre-training – Choose one thing to focus on for that session.
- Post session – Self evaluate how you went with the focus.
- Values explicitly called out in meeting agendas – daily, weekly, quarterly, annually (Verne Harnish’s work in Rockefeller Habits and Scaling Up is great in this area.)
- Values-based, rather than solely goal-focussed, celebrations.
- Aligning role based performance criteria to Values.
Have you found a particular framework or model has worked well for you? Have you tried this process and had some success?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.