Understand the Goal, Live the Mission

What is the goal? An important question when considering the most effective way to lead.

“Our company’s goal is to make money.” No sentence can more demoralize an innovative team. Yet, I have heard it both overtly and in subtext so many times from leaders when talking about goals.

In my role of helping teams make business better with technology, as well as having a scientist for a spouse, I spend a lot of time with technology professionals. In both worlds, there is such a sense of deflation created when feeling that their company lacks vision or just wants to make money.

Why? We all know that this is the mission of any American corporation. Why do we let it get to us so much? Is it that it makes us feel like cogs in a bigger machine? Is it that it is not us personally making the money? Maybe, but I would say that most of us really just want to build something that changes the world for the better. That is our goal.

Whether it be to advance health and wellness, give people better access to information or shave the mundane repetitive tasks away from overworked employees, everything we do should have a goal that makes people’s lives better. Making (or saving) money is an outcome. Money may be a way that we have been trained to measure how much we have changed the world, but it is not very inspiring as a goal. Great teams understand this, great companies promote it with a passion.

Remember this when leading your technical teams. Statements such as: “We have to hit this date!” or “We must beat our competition to market with this feature!” or “We need this much revenue by Q4” or “We will have 100 customers a day” are outcomes. You rarely get your team excited about them; you often lose them. Your goal is something else.

Your goal is that you have something in your product or project that resonates with people, that makes their lives fundamentally better. Not an empty mission statement or a high-level presentation, but something deeply personal that each team member can identify with personally, drive to and innovate to solve.

This is not easy, which is why so often it is left undone. But when you live the mission of bringing IT and business together, having the entire team understand the goal in this personal way is fundamental to success. Whether you are a team lead, project manager or an executive, here are a couple of ideas to start the process.

How does what I am asking to make the world better?

This is not how do we make the company better(i.e. money), but how do we make people’s days better? When you are curing disease, you have it easy here. Even then, numerous repetitive experiments still need reaffirmation that there is value in the team’s work. All of us have a unique way to impact groups of our customers and users through the technology we provide. Think about that personal connection to your users, and clearly articulate how people’s days get better because of us in everything we do.

How does it tie into the core mission of the company?

This is where the company comes to play. This may seem obvious, but so much of what we do tends to get lost in the big picture. Everything we do ties into the core mission, or we really should not be doing it. Again, this is not about making money or keeping up with the competition, but how is your company uniquely positioned to make people’s days better toward this goal?

How can you engage the team to have them make the goal better?

The most important is often the most forgotten. It is not your goal, it is the teams. If you do not get the team’s feedback on how to measure it, how to make it better, how to innovate toward it, then how do you know it’s worthwhile, or even achievable? Take the time on everything you do to get feedback from those doing the work. It will pay dividends.

When you understand those things, internalize the mission and be an evangelist. Communicate it to everyone you meet and communicate it often. If you cannot understand the answer to any of these questions, it may signal that you do not understand the goal or that your goal needs to be reconsidered. Being a good leader will mean being relentless at goal creation and communication so that you lead your teams toward something. There is more to great goal creation, but this will get you started on the right path.

The time is worth it. The team will help you innovate toward the goal. They will buy into the goal or help you refine it and shape it. Only then will you get the outcomes that you want.