When it is not clear where your organization is heading, how do you expect your team to autonomously move forward in the right direction?
The only way to enable autonomous decision-making is by being extremely clear on the context in which decisions have to be made. This includes vision, mission, objectives, and limitations.
Weak leaders tend to spend a lot of time on these organizational elements, whereas smart leaders know that a context will only contribute if it is simple, unambiguously and easy to remember. So, skip all the obvious, be precise and distinctive, and share the direction as much as possible.
I always have found it useful to reduce the elements of an organization's direction as follows.
What steps to take for the practice
A mission is a thing you're setting out to do. Compare it to the military interpretation of a mission. It is not an everlasting objective, but rather a target we set for ourselves for the mid-term. A mission can be accomplished. Therefore missions can change over time. That’s ok. A perfect mission starts with: “We are going to/have to/must…”.
A vision is something your organization believes in. It is a binding faith. People that do not share this belief, should not be in your organization, as they apparently are after something else and therefore by default not contributing to reaching the goal of the organization. A vision typically starts with: “We believe ..”. Simon Sinek has some excellent stuff on this.
Objectives are the goals you set for the organization. The fewer goals, the better. Have the guts to choose. I remember an organization having two goals. One was to have a certain score in terms of employee satisfaction, the other had to do with customer satisfaction. We learned that customer satisfaction follows employee satisfaction. When we dropped customer satisfaction as a goal, nothing happened. Customers were still happy, maybe even more so because for all employees it became even more clear on what to base their day-to-day decisions. So, have one goal (yes, it is possible) and be very specific when that goal is reached and what happens then. Define the “party” upfront, and what needs to be achieved for everyone to know the party is on! The objective should start with: “We celebrate when …”
Autonomy only works when the boundaries of autonomous decision-making are perfectly clear. When limitations in autonomy are not clear, people will get hesitant. This will reduce the level of autonomous decision making, or at least slowdown decision making significantly. As it is impossible to define the exact boundaries of all potential decision making within an organization, mistakes will be made. How you deal with mistakes will be decisive in successfully installing autonomy. Be too severe, and no one will dare to give it another try. Be too easy, and existing limitations will have lost their value. Thus, make sure there is an ongoing discussion on the boundaries in autonomy that exist, so everyone will understand the rationale behind them. Attach them to the vision, and people may even be able to determine themselves the boundaries when they are not explicitly stated. Boundaries are best stated in a positive way and start like: “We can …. “. So, what should an organization's direction statement be like? Below you’ll find a template and some examples. Try for yourself to see how they might enable team members to go about autonomously, without the need for approval or consent. How would these statements help you in becoming self-guiding?
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