Pointing North vs. Going North

Pointing North vs. Going North

The Challenge (Part 1):

Get your team or organisation into a room, have everyone close their eyes and point North. Continuing to point to their ‘North’ of choice – let people take a look around the room. Invariably you will have people pointing in different directions that they think are North. So we may all know we are heading North, we might just have different ideas of where North actually is.

The Challenge (Part 2):

Have the same group of people write down where the organisation is going and what it aims to achieve, on a sticky note. Stick all of the notes up together. Now do you see why it’s important that we all have the same idea of what North means. Even with the best intentions when individuals, teams, departments or whole organisations have differing ideas of ‘where we’re going’ and ‘what we aim to achieve’ – it’s almost impossible to get there.

You know when you go paddling and the front and back person are rowing in different directions and all that happens is that the canoe ends up going in circles – the same thing happens in organisations without a clear, often-repeated, continuously-harped-on-about, used-as-a-yardstick, True North. Consider the famous story of the janitor at NASA who, when asked by Pres. Kennedy what he did there, responded: “I’m helping to put a man on the moon”.

The Challenge (Part 3):

Take a stroll around your organisation and ask a random sample of people “what do you do here and why is it important”. What do their responses indicate?

A saying emerged a few years ago – “act like a founder” i.e. treat the business as your own. When people don’t know where the company is headed, or why they matter in helping achieve that – you’re going to struggle to get A-Grade work out of them, let alone expecting them to ‘act like a founder’. Never mind how their employee experience impacts their levels of engagement at work. The experience that people have at work everyday has a massive impact on whether or not they give a damn about where you want your company to go. Seth Godin talks about searching for enrollment and getting the right people onto the bus.

If your bus is going North and there are people on it who have no intention of going where you are going – you might want to let them off, now. Fill your bus with people who are going to the same place.

How? Here’s one way. After their 4-week training program all new hires at Zappos.com are offered $4000 to quit. This simple practice gets people to self-select – are we on or off the bus, Zappos make it easy for the wrong people to self-select out, knowing that they walk away with something. A South African Fintech startup has has put a process in place where they do much the same – every three months, for the whole staff compliment. Every three months the whole company gets together to go over the business strategy, realign and refocus. At the end of the session leadership very candidly asks if there is anyone who like to get off the bus at this point. Perhaps their vision and company’s vision no longer align, or the company has moved in a direction that they don’t want to go. They offer a generous severance package and part ways amicably.

Also key is to make people aware of strategy and direction, often. Quarterly ‘State of the Business addresses’, regular business strategy reviews etc. However you chose to share what your North is, it will achieve two key objectives. It will create consistent responses to the exercise in part 2 of ‘The Challenge’ and it will help people decide whether or not they still want to be on this bus.

Remember, if there are people on your bus who have no intention of going to the same destination as you they’ll slow the bus down, with constant stops to get off. Fill your bus with people who are going to the same North as you.

This article originally appeared here.