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I agree that “meaning” is a more powerful force than “goals”. Goals eventually become boxes to just be checked off if there is not meaning or purpose behind it. I think the C suite and even within the corporate office setting, people can live the shared meaning or purpose of the organization. I think it gets challenging the farther away one gets from that setting.
Does anyone have any thoughts about OKR in relation to cascading goals vs cascading meaning? I dont’ know OKR that well myself but our organisation is implementing it now. I was just wondering if it’s simply cascading goals and not meaning…
I guess I can respond to myself that “OKRs do not cascade”: https://felipecastro.com/en/okr/okrs-not-cascade/ 🙂
A question would be how can you measure performance or engagement against meaning? I fully agree and can attest to the power of cascading meaning, but I think that organizations tend to cling to goals as a metric to measure performance against. Asking to measure performance against cascaded meaning feels like asking how can I measure against a cultural fit. I am not clear on how we can or should do that, or should we just abandon that type of rating system altogether? Maybe I am missing the point or trying to make this too broad. I struggle with this aspect as it is deeply embedded in our “culture” that we must have a performance benchmark to then lead into salary planning, promotions, etc. Any thoughts?
What are some effective strategies to support the growth and development of team leaders? It strikes me that the challenge (and opportunity) of this new paradigm is to unlearn legacy behaviors and build the competencies that promote the practices that advocated here.
So many employees do come to work everyday and let the river push them forward. They go to meetings, answer emails and move through activities, but no real work is getting done. Goals help get the noise out of the way and set priorities. Agreed my “buy in” is larger if I create my goals, not all employees have that drive or company knowledge to set their own goals. I don’t think its either/or but both cascade goals and rituals/stories.
I like having Ashley and Marcus in the same video! I think it is an improvement 🙂
I joined my company in 2013 as the CHRO (after a long void without holistic People Leadership) and embarked on an effort to “cascade meaning” rather than goals (although I can’t honestly say that I realized it that plainly!). I knew that my HR team needed big picture messaging from me that would serve as a North Star for their actions and decisions and that no matter how well crafted any cascaded goals might be, they would be insufficient. We also had a LOT of foundation building, reconstructing, etc. that was necessary to address a gap in attention to our people (both my team and organizationally) and a resulting deficit of positive morale and engagement. I can tell you that 5 years later, it is paying dividends for sure and we are now on a journey to get this to take hold throughout the company….but my key point to anyone looking to embark on this type of endeavor is powerful. Don’t underestimate the resistance you may get by your own teams and team leaders who are not understanding of the change. Some in my teams thought this was approach too vague, too unfair, too “unbecoming a leader” (my words!). Clearly these very good and talented people were dealing with quite a bit of PTSD from the “way things were done”. Keep at it though. My team is now flourishing and resilient and leading by example. It is worth every ounce of perseverance!!
Good pointers. Thanks Keri!
I love the theory of this truth. I want to know how do you propose that organizations measure performance if they are not using cascaded goals?
Firstly, thank you for answering my question in your latest broadcast (I nearly died when I heard my name).
This talk really made me think! It is easy to get sucked into the big annual objective and review process that most companies have, when what is important is what we do as managers and leaders every day and every week.
I have recently taken over a team of 25 people having previously only managed much smaller teams. So this was already a big challenge on a personal level but on top of that the team have had a series of managers that have pulled them from pillar to post with lots of conflicting priorities. To make matters worse quite a few of my direct reports only had two or three 1:1’s with their manager in the last year. When I watched your second truth session I had been thinking about the two most important questions for engagement being around know me & focus me. Both of these have been sorely lacking for my team and therefore I need to start to change this. I had been thinking of doing this as part of the upcoming annual objective sessions (part of a wider company requirement) but after seeing this latest talk I am rethinking this.
I am now thinking that firstly I need to help the team reconnect to the wider business meaning/ direction and how we as a team contribute to this. Then with my direct reports, week by week (in my newly established habit of check-ins), help them focus on the right things with the support they need from me at the time.
I really liked your advice around stories, rituals and expressed values. I need to think through what stories and rituals I already have and what this is telling my team about what I value and therefore what impact this is having on them (both consciously and unconsciously).
Finally I was reflecting that maybe I am the only one here who kind of loves goals even if they have come from above. I have always looked forward to annual objectives as I found it inspiring and motivating especially with one of my previous bosses. When I reflect on it now, my previous manager used goals more from the perspective of personal development. Between us we set gaols that I would often not having a clue how I would achieve them at the beginning of the year but at the end of the year I would look back and be amazed by my achievements having learnt and grown so much along the way. Reflecting now, I see that these were not really goals set from above but personally set goals focused on personal development created in collaboration with a highly supportive manager. Hopefully I can follow her example and be this type of leader for my team.
Okay – I have probably written too much here but it has really got me thinking, so thank you for that.
Marcus and Ashley,
Sometimes I lie awake at night thinking…
Regarding the format issue for truth #3.
“what did you get in the previous format that you’re not getting with this one?” – Attention. It is no longer personal, that personal connection was lost as presented.
I once heard a notable researcher that used to work for Gallop comment that people do not want feedback, they want attention.
A live format is much more personal. One in which there is some personal attention and back and forth real time discussion. A format of “meet me at a given time to view a pre-recorded video” is much less personal and loses the connection to the group. Why did I schedule time out of my day to watch a pre-recorded video that I could have watched at any time? Compare that with scheduling time out of my day to actually share some live personal time with the authors. Even if I am not directly engaged. The difference is very profound.
The most valuable thing that you can give a person is your time. It is a limited resource. I can’t buy it, and you can’t ever get it back but you chose to spend a small amount of it with me. That makes me feel special.
I strongly believe in the theory of the self-interested employee. The personal attention is what people seek. It makes them feel important. It makes them feel valued. Just consider our younger generation who is interested in how many likes they can get on Facebook? It is about the direct personal attention. I believe your research is pointing to that and that the regular check-ins you talk about address this issue directly.
For those of us that signed up to be part of the Freethinking Leader Coalition, we care what team we are on. An opportunity to work with and be part of, even in some minor role, a project that is being driven by a powerhouse such as the collaboration of Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall. It makes me feel part of something bigger than me and it makes me want to be engaged.
If the format gets in the way due to being at different locations, perhaps a live discussion and then, “Ashley wanted to provide some pre-recorded comments and is planning to follow up when he is back from his trip” or something of that nature would be much more personal than a fully canned, pre-produced video. Or perhaps a cut over to a feed from Ashley for a few minutes.
I would like to ask you to consider something that I think would help drive stronger engagement for this group and hopefully lead you to what you are seeking with much better input and engagement on your project.
Would you consider, upon publication of your book, a short, small print page at the end that would list the names of all of the members of the Freethinking Leader Coalition that bothered to provide comments? It would drive engagement for you. I care what team I am on. It would make me feel special. It would make me feel part of something bigger than myself. I would talk about this for years to come.
If you find this of value I would be blown away to just have a 1-minute phone call to say stay engaged, or even just a public response here. Sometimes I lie awake at night… I really do care about what team I am on. It would make me feel special. It would make me feel part of something bigger than I am. It would keep me engaged. I would talk about it for years. Think about, how in addition to your book, how you can become a force multiplier. May this coalition exceed your expectations for success.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou
BTW – I used your eight questions during our last performance review process. It makes you think about it differently. Cascading meaning requires us to think differently. That was probably the intent of cascading goals but the act of cascading goals was likely a result of not fully understanding what motivates and engages workers to perform at their best.
Gary, thank you for staying up and thinking and then sharing that thinking. Ashley and I and team are always looking for better ways to serve this community. I do kind of like the back and forth between us, but yes, you’re right, live is always better. Frankly, the challenge is less schedule that in getting that live feed streamed into everyone’s world – we’ve learned that many people’s work internet doesn’t allow them access to live video. Which, while annoying to us, is also understandable, given security issues. So, yes, hmm, not sure best way to keep the intimate attention, while still reaching as many people as possible. We’ll do some noodling in the next couple of weeks.Thanks again.
Thanks so much Marcus!
Gary, +1 from me on Marcus’s comments–thank you. Your input is super useful–we’ll ponder and see what we can do. Very grateful to you for taking the time, and grateful that you’re on this team!
Very good. They say the missing ingredient in success is meditation. Seems a little of that has been happening here.
As one who has had to coach too many leaders through the dreaded performance appraisal cycle and forced distribution process, like many of my HR colleagues, I, too, have struggled with the ineffectiveness of this process for several reasons. The nature of work has been changing far too rapidly to make an annual goal setting process efficient. Additionally, I have found that more and more work is getting done in a team setting; thereby making the establishment of individual goals no longer relevant.
Two questions that I would love to get feedback on:
• When you talk about stories, rituals and expressed values, I would like to understand how to effectively tie in the overall business strategy.
• What is the best way to message this approach to senior leaders who may be resistant to letting go of the traditional “cascading goals”? I envision challenges getting them to understand how this change can still ensure employees are driving towards the business objectives for overall success.
Cindy–thanks for the comments! On your first question, business strategies usually imply some set of choices or behaviors–not this, but *this*. The trick is to choose stories that showcase the behaviors that we’re after; to design rituals to highlight the choices we want. That’s actually the “how” of driving towards the business objectives! On the second question, I’d look for some way of showing leaders what the experience of cascaded goals is actually like in the trenches, and how it has very impact on what people actually choose to do every day. Goals aren’t doing what we think they’re doing–but we need to get down to ground level to see that.
I really appreciate Lie/Truth #3 as I think this has been a missing link for organizations for years! We work so hard in an attempt to get all the arrows moving in the same direction through cascading objectives and aligning our folks to key objectives. It really is the subtle (yet maybe not so subtle) difference of cascading the why and then reinforcing it with our actions (stories, rituals and expressed values). I’m working with a leadership team that really does have a strong purpose and meaning however I see it lose it’s power or get diluted when it is then translated by each individual of the leadership team in their stories, rituals and expressed values. Any suggestions to help the team in their words and development of rituals and actions to be more focused and have more impact?
Shellie–good to hear! To your question, I’ve always found that focus and impact come from concentrating efforts on a few things done a lot. Might it help your leadership team to pick just a few things that they can then all reinforce? In other words, a few ways of expressing the same thing, not many ways of expressing many things.
I get the cascading meaning part, people do better if they understand the Why. But Goals are still necessary? We build the best quality product, but we still need to know what product to design this year and what that timeline is. Is that right?
Yes, we need to know what we’re all going to do–what our work is. But oddly, cascaded goals don’t do that. And the question of what product to build and on what timeline is a work planning question, not an individual goal-setting question. In cascaded goals, we mix up work planning and motivation and assessment. The evidence suggests that keep these things separate makes more sense. Does that help?
We’ve developed an engagmed workforce but the process of goal-setting and cascading is always an issue. What goals are right, too hard, too easy. Often a leadership team will feel challenged and if the team is not hitting goals, is it because we set them too high and didn’t create the right plan. It become a s circle of debate. Plus, they always tend to need to be financial, since in the past we felt that rewarding behaviors as opposed to results became another challenge.
I’m not a fan of the format of presenting this truth. It feels very disjointed to me.
I agree. In my opinion, I believe there’s more value in the previous format (: nice try though!
Vitor (and Beth)–what did you get in the previous format that you’re not getting with this one?
Thank you for your feedback, Beth! We’re always looking for ways to improve so we decided to try something different this time – we really appreciate your thoughts!
We’d still love your comments and questions about the lie/truth – Marcus and Ashley will be responding to them.
Looking forward to hearing your comments on this week’s truth. Also, watch out for Mojo the cat!
Subtle differences between voluntary goals and cascading goals- I’d say there is a large river between them making them not so ‘subtle’. I am a proponent of visiting the strategic goals in meetings, presentations, processes and suggest to leaders and managers to drill it down to what it means for the individual. If the Finance team is giving a presentation on some new process to team admins. start with the WHY- well the Why can be a cascaded goal or it can be a tangible outcome that is relevant to the individual. Start with the individual, what’s important to them, what are they passionate about, and paint a picture, tell a story. Start with the people. Can’t wait for the unveiling today.
I can’t count the number of times I have done this. Both having been subjected to cascading goals and forcing them on subordinates. Its very true that they rarely get looked at. I am very curious to see what the research bears out on this one.
From my initial opinion, the best mitigating strategy is sharing the vision through “management by walking around”. Those impromptu “check-ins” that allow a conversation to occur and be held on how an individuals efforts tie into and affect the overall goal are very powerful but difficult to quantify and measure.
Great time for this lie. We’re in our final annual review season. Leafs joke that it’s a time when there’s a flurry of busy work, all to complete the reviews. What make it worse is that we use these to rank employees to an enforced bell curve to which merit increases get distributed. It’s insanity at best, but how are we to change a system that has worked for those fast-tracked to management?
This is really interesting, especially as I am in the middle of planning/ budgeting for next year and soon to go into the year-end cycle of review and objective setting. It is hard to see how to break free from this lie as the behaviours & processes that have been built around it is so ingrained into corporate culture. It feels like there will be quite a few people to persuade in order to change things.
I think part of the difficulty with cascading corporate goals is when these goals change. When you work in a fast paced environment you may try something & then realise it isn’t working and therefore revise the goals. If you are continually cascading these changes it can be confusing and actually cause some of the misalignment. On top of that, I think people then start to question and lose faith in the leaders that set the goals in the first place.
My question would be if you don’t cascade goals are you proposing that people set their own? Then, what happens if the goals that people have set for themselves are not very ambitious or don’t align to the business need? How do you drive performance towards the things that matter to the company? Looking forward to hearing the truth on this one.
I hade a colleague once who referred to the layers between sr. management and front line leaders as the “frozen middle”. nothing gets through either up or down. I can’t think of a better example than the process of cascading goals for validating the idea of a frozen middle. I’m a recovering MBO addict and so appreciate the third lie and hearing it articulated.
What strikes me about all of these Lies, particularly this one, is the amount of courage and trust required to turn to the Truth. And, there’s just not enough of that in the corporate environment today – courage to lead differently and trust in your people to work wholeheartedly. I’ve agreed with each Truth thus far…excited to learn more and understand the practical ways to apply it.
Stephanie–very well said. The funny thing is that each of us wants to be trusted and feels ourselves to be trustworthy, yet we design the world of work as though the opposite is true!
Very interesting and never a truer word spoken. The numbers of times I and my teams had to cut and paste cascaded goals irrelevant to our day to work was ridiculous. Performance ratings were a nightmare and were often changed through a calibration process that lacked transparency and openness.
Result : fed-up, unmotivated people … at least when it came to their perceived performance and associated bonus. Fortunately, most people didn’t carry this beyond the three dreaded stages, 1. Entry deadline, 2. Mid-Year Review deadline and 3. Final Year Review deadline. The ironic thing was rather than being a driver for better, aligned performance they were considered an administrative and often divisive burden. No amount of challenge to perceived wisdom would change this as it was intrinsically linked to the bonus scheme and salary increase and to change would require some ,major rework from the shareholders down. In reality, enabling the team to set their own goals both at a team and individual level with an eye on the overall purpose of the business, where this was achievable, at least gave a sense of pulling together. Unfortunately this often had to be done outside of the annual performance review process with a tenuous link created at the end for documentation purposes.
Marcus – How can we talk about all this leadership and management change yet still do the exact opposite within the organizations we work in. Employees who are bought in how do we deal with the frustrating fact we are still doing everything your saying is wrong. The internal conflict with leaders saying but not practicing it.. If you stand up you feel ostracized from the 99% who are not bought in and don’t truly believe. How can we empower change when we are actively still doing things the wrong way.
WOW. Having come from a large software company that defines itself by its cascading goals, it’s comforting to know that my reservations weren’t misplaced. I can’t wait to hear what the truth is.
Boy, I love this coalition! I was always a cynic about goals and couldn’t articulate WHY. Marcus did just that. I remember being forced, as a manager, to show alignment between my team’s goals and the organization’s goal. Now, I led a learning and development function. One of our goals was to continually look for opportunities to refine and develop learning. I had to “force” that goal into the strategic initiative (our organization’s moniker for the senior team’s priorities) of “Develop and Exploit New Business Opportunities.” It was beyond ridiculous. I decided we were going to get together to figure out what work mattered the most for us. We got together, as a team, agreed on that and then I simply let folks choose which of those activities were the most interesting for them. There were several people wanting to take on the same tasks, and not all work was equal–in effort or scope. But we talked it through AS A TEAM, came to agreement, and put that in writing. Every team meeting started with a discussion on what was going with everyone’s commitments. I never had a more productive, fun, engaged team. Just sayin.
Leesa–great story. Perfect example of the clash between the theoretical world of goals, plans, etc., and the real world where a group of people sits down and figures out what to get done and how.
Looking forward to November 7