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June 22, 2011Performance-driven, Values-based Leadership, Part 1: Defining the Playing Field

Several years ago, I witnessed a group of kids playing soccer in the street. They started right into the game without discussing where the goals were or the sidelines were (the curb? The first line of bushes? The busted down car in the street?). The game started with a lot of enthusiasm. Within a few minutes, one of the kids kicked the ball very far down the street and started screaming, “Goooooaaaaaaallllllllll!”

His teammates were very happy. The kids on the other team started screaming that he hadn’t kicked the ball in exactly the right spot for a goal. Everyone was frustrated. But, they resolved the issue and resumed play. Within a few minutes a kid kicked the ball up into a yard. The kids on the other team said that the ball was out-of-bounds. The kids on the first team said it was still in-bounds and kept trying to play. Again, an argument ensued. This one lasted a little longer than the first argument. Toward the end, several kids wandered off in different directions saying they had better ways to spend their time. What had started out as a highly motivated, high energy group of kids wanting to play soccer outside on a gorgeous day quickly transformed into a case study in dejection and demotivation. The kids all found things to devote their attention to that were personally more motivating than the soccer game. Without any agreement about goals, sidelines or other rules, the game was just too frustrating to play.

Leading your team, or a whole organization, is much the same. It is a game. People are more motivated and more able to deliver their best performance when they know how to win and what the rules of the game are. And, if those boundaries are not clear, playing the game is frustrating and demotivating.

Think about the last time you started playing or watching a game for the first time whether it was Texas Hold ‘em Poker or soccer. Like most players, you almost certainly wanted to know two things:

How do I win?
What are the rules? What plays are in bounds; what plays are out of bounds?

Inside the organization, one of your most critical roles as a leader is to define the playing field. Whether you’re the CEO or a first level supervisor on the shop floor, the people on your team have exactly the same questions…How do I win? What are the rules?

The first question, “How do I win?” is answered by the goals and objectives you set for the organization, departments, teams or individual performers. People want, and need, to know what contribution they must make to be successful and to contribute to the organization’s success. This is the performance-driven aspect of “Performance-driven, Values-based Leadership(tm)” philosophy that WhiteWater Consulting Group is based on. Performance is the goal line. What must the organization accomplish for it to be successful? How do these objectives cascade down to the performance goals and targets of teams and individuals.

People want to know how they win, personally, and how they contribute to their company’s or their department’s or their team’s success. These are the results that come from work.

What are the rules?
Values-based defines the second part of the game. The organization’s values represent the widest parameters within which people can take action. Clearly defining these parameters is critical because:

  • Values provide the autonomy to act. In a “values-based” environment people know they can take whatever action is necessary to achieve the objectives (i.e., win the game) as long as they behave inside the boundaries defined by the values.
  • Values define WHO can be on the team. If teamwork is critical to your organization’s success, then you need people who can work and play well with others, even if they aren’t the best individual contributors. If individual contribution is critical, then you might hire the absolute best individual performers, even if they act like rabid piranhas when working with others.

As a leader, some questions to ponder:

  • How well is the playing field in your part of the organization defined?
  • To what extent does everyone in your work group know what their individual goals are?
  • How well do those individual goals align with the organization’s, department’s and work team’s goals and objectives?
  • What are your organization’s values?
  • How consistently do people behave inside those values?
  • What happens when people behave outside the values?

Leave a comment about how you think values add to your Game. What have you seen as a benefit for your team when values are established and enforced?  What are the consequences when the boundaries aren’t clear, or the aren’t consistently enforced?