Thursday, February 04, 2010

Leaders Beware! Don't Let Key Intentions Disengage Your Team

I’ll bet you never thought that setting POSITVE intentions or defining POSITIVE values for your company or team could throw your employees/members off track. Well, the research proves that this can definitely be the case – if your team views your behavior as being inconsistent with those key intentions or values, or if your actions make you appear to be hypocritical.

Maybe it’s not “rocket science” per se; but I’ll admit to having a little “A-HA! Moment” as I read about the research conducted by Sandra Cha (McGill University) and Amy Edmonson (HBS). Their research was published in 2006 Leadership Quarterly: "When Values Backfire: Leadership, Attribution, and Disenchantment in a Values-Driven Organization." Yes, I know it’s been a few years; but I think it’s still valid.

What led me to this research today was an HBS Working Knowledge article Corporate Values and Employee Cynicism with a Q&A with the authors. Perhaps the article grabbed my attention given that I recently facilitated the Bring Your Future into Laser Focus! Team Visioning teleseminar designed to help teams set their key intentions and SMART goals for the year. And, now I’m hoping folks won’t get in their own way!

There’s a good chance that people who either participated in the session or who have downloaded the audio are on the right track given that we discussed the value in ensuring that your key intentions are:

Aligned with your overall purpose and needs you’ve identified from your target market

Valuable to provide the most impact in the most efficient ways

Innovative, based on something new you’d like to offer or a new group you’d like to serve

One of the disconnects raised by Cha and Edmonson occurs when there is tension between stated intentions (or values) and the interpretation of those intentions (or values) by team members. For example: perhaps everyone on the team has reached agreement on the what [“We intend to provide a high level of customer service to all of our clients/customers regardless of the level at which they use our services/products.”]. Yet, maybe the team has yet to agree on the how – what it will mean to execute on and fulfill that intention. So, setting and agreeing to key intentions is only a first step; there also has to be dialogue between leaders and their teams, and decisions made on how key intentions will be fulfilled.

Another topic we discussed in the Team Visioning session was how to set SMART Goals that flow out of your key intentions. Another pitfall from the research to look out for is when goals (or values) seem to conflict with one another. Here, team leaders may need to give members some flexibility in how certain tasks are accomplished; or perhaps re-visit the “R” from SMART or the realistic nature of the task.

In the session, we also talked about the importance for leaders to be transparent with members about goals that may be considered stretch goals – targets that are outside the normal realm of how things are done. It’s great to help and encourage people to exceed targets. We also want to level-set expectations so everyone is on the same page about what’s being expected of them. No one likes to be set up to fail.

As a leader, one of your key intentions for 2010 might be to create the right environment for your members to succeed – and exceed their goals. One of my key intentions is to share compelling ideas and strategies to help you and your team to achieve sustainable results in 2010 and beyond.

I’d love if you would share your 2010 key intentions with me – either comment here or tweet me @Coach_Colette.