The Why, the Strategy and the Culture

Hardly an article is written, or a conversation is started, without a mention of the terrible trials we have endured during 2020. Motivation and engagement seems to be at an all-time low and leaders and business owners are concerned about how to approach planning for 2021. They appear to be stuck between the proverbial rock and the hard place. 2020 was challenging enough but 2021 seems be shrouded in mystery as the way forward feels more and more uncertain as we prepare to enter 2021 with COVID in tandem. How does one create forward momentum during such uncertainty? How do you motivate team members, or even yourself, when the goal-post keeps moving?

At the end of last year, I read the book The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris. In the novel, the Tattooist Lale Solokov is a Slovakian Jew who is judged by his peers for being prepared to tattoo the symbols of the Nazi oppression on his fellow Jews – specifically on young girls, women and children. In Lale’s mind though he was doing this so that he could make sure that the tattoos hurt as little as possible. In his own way, the character of Lale teaches us the lesson that Viktor Frankl vividly portrayed in Man’s Search for Meaning. When we understand our purpose, when we know where we make meaning of life, then we can doggedly follow that path. Even under the harshest conditions.

The way to start preparing for 2021 is to understand the Why, or purpose of the organization, teams and individual employees. Asking the following questions can help you get there.

For the organization:
What is the Why of the business?
Why is that significant?
What value does it add to society?
What value does it add for its employees?
Given the rapid changes that have taken place, is this why still relevant?

For a team (or business unit):
What is the Why for the team?
How does the team fulfill the Why of the business?
How have changes over the last year changed the Why for the team?
Has there been a shift in process, procedure, and systems to support the Why of the team?
Can the team still deliver on its Why?

For the individual employee?
What is the Why for each individual employee?
Are there employees that share a Why?
Are these connections being used to create engagement?
Does the Why of the employee dovetail with the Why of the business?
Has there been a disruption to the employees Why this year? How has this been dealt with?

By answering these questions managers, and team members alike, will get a better understanding of what is driving each level of the business and whether there is sufficient overlap to create a cohesive network of motivation. These overlaps will be the super power of the organization and should align to the strategy and culture of the organization.

Where there are gaps, however, these are areas in which work is needed. Once the gaps have been identified it is best to see how the gaps relate to the strategy and culture of the organization. If the gaps negatively impact either, or both, of these they need to be eliminated. If the gaps do not related to the above, then performance will not be impacted. It is therefore best to prioritize closing the gaps that can have an impact on the strategy and the culture.

Creating a shared purpose will help in setting up more sustainable motivation that can drive one employee, one team or one business.