Planning to Plan: Aligning Passion


Happy New Year! Many of you are finalizing goals for 2016, and planning how you’re going to accomplish them. I want all of you to have even more success this year… and helping your team align their passion, priorities, and actions toward your organization’s goals will be a key to your success.

In the introduction to my “Planning to Plan” series, I proposed that leaders ask themselves a few tough questions about last year’s plan:

  • Did we have a clear, compelling and attainable vision of what we wanted to accomplish?
  • Did our team truly and deeply believe in what we were doing, and why?
  • Did we clearly identify our priorities, and what was “out of bounds”?
  • Did we encourage our critical thinkers to think critically, and help us face the brutal facts?
  • Did our team buy in to an actionable plan that addressed their constraints?
  • Did our entire team review and adapt the plan throughout the year?

In my last post, I shared some thoughts on building and articulating a clear, compelling and attainable vision. Next, I’ll focus on how we get our teams aligned for action in pursuit of the vision. What do I mean by “aligned”? In this context, I believe alignment has a few key facets: passionpriorities, and action.

Passion is what gets your team members out of bed in the morning, what motivates them to care enough about the work to actually do it, and what keeps them working for you instead of someone else. While there are people who say they don’t have (or don’t even believe in) passion for their work, you really want team members who care.

One of the best ways to build and align your team’s passion is to include them in the visioning process. Then they will feel a vested interest in the future you’re working to create. But everyone won’t be involved in building the vision, and that’s why it’s so important to create a rich vision story. The richer the story, the more likely it is to strike a chord in the hearts and minds of the listeners. The vision story can provide the why, a necessary nutrient for thriving passion.

In many larger organizations, the vision is presented through a polished, exciting kick-off video. In smaller settings, the leader of the organization often tells the story of where we’re headed, and the impact we hope to make. While these can be efficient ways to deliver a story to a lot of people, don’t assume that this is enough to ignite and align your team’s passion. Passion is personal. You’re probably not going to “create” passion. Instead, you need to surface your team members’ existing passions, and help them see how the work your organization is doing matters to them. You can’t tell them what it should be… they need to discover it for themselves.

The best way to enable this is through individual reflection and small group conversations. I recommend that any kind of vision video or presentation be immediately followed by a well-planned exercise for personal reflection and small-group discussion. This can work in a small team with an handful of people, in an arena with 20,000 employees, or with participants dialed into a web meeting from around the world. It’s a vital piece of the process, and you need to find a way to make it work in your setting.

Ask each team member to reflect on what they’ve just seen and heard, to write down a few thoughts on why they think this is important, and what their role will be in making it become reality. Ask them to do this in silence, out of respect for their teammates, and provide 3-5 minutes. Do NOT say things like “what we’re trying to do here is align your passion with the work we need you to do”… that’s counterproductive!

After the individual reflection period, have them self-organize into groups of 4 (3-5 is OK) and spend up to 15 minutes comparing notes (up to 2 minutes per person to present their thoughts, the rest of the time for group discussion). Ask folks to speak quietly, to keep voices within their group. In situations with remote attendees, you may need to organize them into remote groups in advance, so they can have phone numbers or conference bridges or “breakout rooms” already shared to enable them to talk in small groups).  Observe the energy in the room during the group discussions. You’ll physically feel the power building to accomplish your team’s goals.

At the conclusion of the small group exercises, ask if team members are excited about the possibilities and their role in making it happen. You’ll hear a lot of excitement! Tell the team that you know this also probably raised some concerns and surfaced some challenges, and that’s part of the process. You expect that some of their concerns will be addressed as the meeting transitions to cover more concrete goals and plans, but that you want them to share any remaining concerns with their managers after the meeting.

Soon after the meeting, all managers should have team and 1-on-1 follow-up conversations with their team members to review thoughts, concerns, and plans to address them. This creates a fertile environment for individual managers to help their team members align goals and plans in a way that meets individual needs and maximizes individual passion levels.

Through this approach, each individual is encouraged to find their own connections between what is important to them, and where the organization is headed, without being TOLD to do it and without being TOLD what it “should be”. It may not work for everyone, but many members of your team will be able see how their passion aligns with the organization’s direction, and will be able to articulate it so it “sticks”. This will give them great energy to succeed personally, and support the team’s success.

In the next installment in this series, I’ll discuss the importance of aligning priorities, and how to accomplish that.

Question: How does your organization energize and align with the passions of its employees? You can leave a comment by clicking here.


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