If COVID-19 has taught us anything, its that we cannot predict what the future looks like...and when we can't see ahead, how in the heck are we supposed to keep our teams focused on results?
Imagine you are traveling down 35 on the Wisconsin side of the Mississippi River. It is a beautiful day out, the sun is shining, the temperature is perfect, and you are enjoying the wind ruffling through your hair as you cruise the windy scenic roads with your windows rolled down.
You come to a bend in the road, and suddenly, without warning, you enter into a blanket of fog, thicker than anything you've been in before. What do you do?
If you're like me, you'll:
- Slow way down
- Grip the steering wheel tightly
- Straighten up and lean forward
- Roll up the windows
- Become acutely aware of your surroundings
Well, ladies and gentlemen, the first two months of 2020 was us cruising down 35 and March was the bend in the road. We are in the midst of fog and we are having a hard time seeing the end of it!
We don't know what the economy is going to do, we don't know if we can keep all of our staff or bring those back that are on LOA, and we don't know what our new normal is going to look like.
So, in the density of this fog, how can we keep our teams motivated? How can we help them focus on results? What can we do to make the very best of this extremely challenging situation?
I don't have all the answers, but I do have seven steps that will surely help you and your teams focus in the fog.
7 Steps to Team Focus
Step 1: Define Success with Clear Goals and Targets
This is a lot easier to say than to do, even during normal conditions. In COVID, our goals move from 1-5 year objectives, to quarter objectives. Our ability to "see more and see before," as John Maxwell puts it, is shortened. Yet, we still have to provide hope, and hope is created when we have set our targets on achievable goals. So instead of forecasting out years in advance, take the shorter approach. How far in the future are you able to see? If all goes smoothly, where could your team be? What sorts of results could you achieve? Stop, reflect, and ask your team, "What would success look like in the next quarter?" and then work diligently to clarify that picture as best as possible.
Step 2: Ensure Everybody has a Number
This great strategy comes from the work of Gino Wickman in the book Traction. After you've developed a clear picture of your goals and targets, break these down to the individual employee level. For example, if our goal is to increase sales by 2.5% in the next 3 months, an individual salesperson may have the goal to make 10 calls per day. This would be their number. A supervisor running a manufacturing team might have the number of daily labor hours on a certain machine. Daily cost of rework may be the number for the quality control person and a customer service rep might have the number of customer response time. The objective here is to make sure that every feels ownership and responsibility for the overall goal by having a measurable indicator that they are responsible for.
Step 3: Create a Scorecard and Make it Public
I am not a huge fan of sports, so sometimes when I attend games I arrive late. What I do like about sports is that no matter where they are in the game, you can look at the scoreboard and know exactly where they are: who's winning, how many fouls, what quarter we are in, how much time is left, etc. A scorecard is like a scoreboard for business. It includes indicators that show where you are. These should be updated frequently (daily if possible) and be publically displayed.
Step 4: Take Collective Responsibility for Mistakes
Dealing with failure is one of the biggest challenges for a team. Too often when a mistake is made, we start asking whose at fault. This is a great way to destroy trust on a team and to ensure that new ideas will never be tested. Instead of casting blame, simply face the mistake. It could go like this: "Hum, today you fumbled. Bummer. I fumbled last will and will probably do it again next week. What can we learn from this?" Recognize that a failure anywhere on the team will affect the whole team, so help one another learn from these. This is especially true as we navigate the waters of COVID.
Step 5: Give a CRAP
CRAP stands for Celebration, Recognition, Appreciation and Praise (see a whole video on this topic here). According to a recent Gallop poll, 46% of employees have received zero appreciation in the last 12 months. This is terrible, but I'm sure the number is even quite a bit higher as many of us are working from home. If you want to train a dog, you constantly tell him, "good boy" when he does even the smallest thing correctly. Obviously, your team and people are not dogs, but there is wisdom in frequently showing your appreciation...people will stay focused on the results.
Step 6: Own the Team
You've probably seen the comic where four people are in a boat and the front of it is sinking. One in the back turns to the other and says, "we'll at least that's not on our end!" It's funny because it's true. I've been in many team meetings where people only care about their part of the business. The production manager only cares about production, the customer service director is only concerned about customer service, and shipping only cares about getting stuff out of the door. So, literally, there can be fires in another department, and other department heads simply say to themselves, "Gosh, at least that is not happening in my department." This step is an encouragement of every single person in the organization to take on ownership for the whole organization. If there is an issue in shipping, that affects customer service! If a production line is down, that affects shipping. Everything is interconnected, so act as though you own the whole team. Be interested in, concerned about, and willing to help in any part of the business.
Step 7: Keep Constant Focus
This step is by far the hardest step. It is easy to set a goal, and it's even pretty easy to start on a goal. The tough thing is to keep at a goal. This is especially true when our social distance guidelines are changing daily, when there is so much to read about in the news, and when we can't have our daily in-person huddles as a team. But a leader who cares about keeping focus will find ways to constantly beat the drum. Perhaps you move your huddles onto Zoom, maybe you incorporate the use of a newsletter, maybe a conference call, or download a texting app that you all put on your phones to keep connected. Whatever it is, continue to repeat the goals and emphasize the importance of focus in everything that you do. I once heard that when you reach the point where you want to puke every time you talk about goals, you've finally gotten the attention of those in the front line...and getting their attention is the first step of moving them towards the goals.
COVID is teaching us a lot of things, but my hope for you is that it teaches you how to help your team be focused no matter the distractions. I sincerely wish you the best of luck!