Dan Hammond continues his series of four articles about craft of the collaborative leader - this time it's goal setting.
SMART objectives won't cut it
In the last article in this series we looked at how the collaborative leader makes a deliberate and planned effort to build their own social capital: the size and quality of their network. This gives the leader contacts who are ready for collaboration when it is needed. The question then is: how do you engage them?
"The reality is that people have very little discretionary effort to offer." says Charlie O'Connor, director at LIW. "How are they going to collaborate with you when they are already overworked?"
As managers, we were raised on a number of principles that made sense and were useful at the time but may have hardened into habits that do not serve us in this new world.
"As Hans Rosling showed through his analysis, students at his university have a world view that is an excellent description of the planet at the time their teachers were born." says O'Connor. "This is similar to leaders today: we were raised by leaders who had their leadership education in the 50s and some of these practices may no longer apply."
One of these practices is SMART goal-setting. The principles of SMART goals are still important but they lack a vital element: motivation. Why should someone expend personal effort to get involved in your project? Going beyond the SMART goal to answer this question is a vital competence of the collaborative leader.
"Leaders need have the confidence to recognise when other people's ideas are better than theirs and equally, if their own idea is better, to choose that one"
The key is first to align what they are trying to achieve to a higher intent. This means getting above your own level of operations to understand what your boss's boss wants to achieve - 'two-levels-up' as it known in the military. From that standpoint, you can engage people not just in your own team but all the teams of your managers' peers with higher goals that are relevant to them.
There must always be a 'what's in it for me' in the higher intent if the collaborative leader is to stand any chance of engaging others. This should ideally be linked to a customer or business need (and in the best organisations these will be the same).
Once the higher intent is established, the collaborative leader will then let the people who can do the work come up with the plan. This autonomy is motivating in itself, as Dan Pink described in his book 'Drive'. It is also likely to lead to a better and more executable plan. Returning to the first article in this series, this concept is at the heart of distributed leadership: the people closest to the challenge or opportunity are most likely to know best what to do.
The role of the collaborative leader now is to maintain focus on the higher intent and run a collaborative decision-making process. As has already been said, the people involved will often be contributing their precious discretionary effort - their social capital. So the process needs to be efficient and simply described. Its role is to harness the (often varied) thinking of the team as quickly as is useful, give everyone an opportunity to contribute, create the best solution and make a decision using a reasonably objective approach. This is important in maintaining the motivation of the team by showing that their input is valued.
With many excellent strategies sitting un-executed in companies around the world, one of the major benefits of a process of this sort is that it sets up successful implementation - going beyond the 'executive team decides, everyone else does' approach.
Practical things a collaborative leader can do: in setting an objective, tie it to the higher intent. Ask yourself: 'how much autonomy would this person like and how much can I give them to motivate them the most?'
For a collaborative leader to be able to run a process like this they need one final attribute that we will explore. This is the summed up by O'Connor in this way: "Leaders need have the confidence to recognise when other people's ideas are better than theirs and equally, if their own idea is better, to choose that one. Not because it is their idea but because it is the right one to choose."
This requires of the collaborative leader a combination of self-esteem and humility that will be covered in the next, and final, article of the series.