Sep 13, 2009
The One Goal
Have you ever witnessed an organization operating at its peak performance? When this happened did you notice that all parts of the organization were pulling together for one stated goal? What causes an organization to operate like this? Why doesn’t it happen all the time? In my opinion, if you were to dig deeper, you would find that this focus was often created by a crisis. A crisis that pulled the organization together, to fight the threat or deal with the disaster.
I had the opportunity to witness, just such an event first hand. In the spring of 1992 a tunnel system that runs under the Chicago River, and throughout much of the downtown area, was punctured, filling the tunnel with water. This tunnel system was connected to many downtown office buildings dating back many decades to when coal was delivered underground to these same buildings. Many of these buildings had open access to the tunnel, and few, if any had water tight doors protecting it from the river many blocks away. I worked for a real estate firm that owned two buildings that were tied to this tunnel system in some way, totaling over a million square feet of prime office space. Within 24 hours one of the buildings was out of commission with over 11 feet of water in the lower basement level. This level housed all the heating, ventilation and electrical systems of the building. We were faced with a catastrophe that was costing us revenue, each day the building was closed.
Within hours of the magnitude of the problem being understood our team was ready to roll. With strong leadership at the helm we put all our employees, our long term vendor relationships and every chip we could play to the task of solving the one problem we had, getting the building back on line ASAP. There were no power plays. There were no excuses. No one said “not my job”. Everyone understood there was only one goal and it was lead, follow or get out of the way and we accomplished our task in record time.
Now the larger question is why do we need a crisis to work like this? Patrick Lencioni, author of the book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team”, calls this type of goal a thematic goal. Patrick further defined a thematic goal as a single, temporary and a qualitative rallying cry that is shared by all member of the team.
Every company needs to create a thematic goal. John P. Kotter in his book “A Sense of Urgency” defines this process as creating urgency. An urgent goal is a thematic goal and is something that everyone needs to work, every day, every meeting to solve. If nothing else in the organization were to be accomplished but this one goal, then the organization would be successful. Once achieved, a new thematic goal takes its place. This is not just the process of creating a false sense of urgency but real needs that allow an organization to be successful.
The function of leadership is tasked with the need to create this urgent goal. Once defined, the urgent goal becomes the rallying cry of the organization over the next three to twelve months. Everyone should know the goal. Everyone should have a part in the goal. Every meeting should start with a status report on the achievement of the goal. When the goal is achieved, you celebrate and get on with the next thematic goal. If this were to happen in every organization you would see continual improvement in execution, quality and success.