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Optimism and Organizations: More than hugs and high fives

Joe Benesh is a senior architect with Shive-Hattery and President + CEO of the Ingenuity Company, a strategic planning, diagramming, framework development, and design thinking consulting firm.

A phrase that is relatively new to me is “hugs and high fives.” It was used in the context of someone speaking about how they perceive strategic goal setting within their company. While it’s easy to discount the importance of the softer elements of strategy and the human side of an organization, empathy and providing a support system for employees is a critical element to building a successful, holistic organization.

There are a number of things directly impacted by employee morale, and they have been well documented. What I would like to talk a little about is optimism and how the cycle of accomplishing the tactical actions of your organization are intrinsic to one another.

When I work with different groups, there is a natural tendency to jump to the tactical. Strategy is esoteric and ethereal from a certain perspective – results are what business demands! But to think about how your organization moves to a tactical level to the extent that it is an antiseptic process misses a key part of what strategy is all about. This moves beyond stretch goals – now we are truly talking about how the planning ecosystem functions.

When you set goals, they should be optimistic. They should be realistic, but they should be aspirational. These goals are used to identify objectives and the tactics or means to satisfy these objectives. This process acts as a mechanism for filtering and rigorously “stress testing” your goals. By taking goals and defining objectives from these goals, you are defining a pathway toward successful tactical implementation.

The tactical action plan you define for your objectives will be defined by how dynamic your goals are. This is fundamentally why optimism at this level is important. Let’s track through an example to help illustrate my point:

Goal 1: Increase productivity to 105%.

The above does not reflect optimism - it simply states what you want to do. It may not provide a motivation for employees to work toward the goal. In fact, it may actually make employees feel that the only important factor is the bottom line. This is what I mean by antiseptic. There is no animus embedded. It’s simply what the company wants to do. Good enough? I think we can do better.

Restated Goal 1: Provide an employee incentive program tied to reaching a productivity level 5-10% beyond prior year’s performance.

The above reemphasizes the employee as the beneficiary of the increase in productivity. It also allows a larger range for growth (10% rather than 5%), as the growth is tied to the incentive in a graduated way. Both goals lead to the same objective, an increase in productivity, but have very different starting points. And, from this objective, the different goals will lead to different tactical action plans. These plans can then be referenced back against the original goal and tested for sustainability and effectiveness. It is meant to be an iterative cycle that continually improves itself.

Being empathetic to employees and setting goals with them in mind moves strategy and goals from “hugs and high fives” to true holistic ownership of the organization’s mission. This in turn leads to goals and tactics that cycle into continual institutional investment in greater employee retention, higher engagement in projects and outcomes, and increased productivity.

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