• Jen May

IS YOUR ‘GOLDEN THREAD’ CUT, KNOTTED OR FRAYED?

What is ‘The Golden Thread’?


It’s the continuous link that joins everything from your personal vision for your business, to ensuring the actions of each person on your team are aligned to that vision.


In other words, it’s the single most important thing in ensuring your business can become and remain sustainable, with every single individual contributing to a common goal. Gold indeed.


How does The Golden Thread join aspects of your business?


The first thing any business owner should do, is to define a clear and compelling Personal Vision. It’s the why that makes investing all that time, money and mental energy worthwhile. It’s how you want your life to be.


The second thing is taking the inspiration of that personal dream and using it to fuel a Business Vision – the aspirational blueprint for bringing your Personal Vision to life. This starts from the question “where do I want to end up?” and uses it to build an exciting story about the vehicle that will get you there – your business. Its purpose, standards and target outcomes.


And next, it’s up to the Business Owner to take that exciting Business Vision and use it as a framework for the hard work of planning how to make it a reality. Of determining how to get from where you are today, to your desired end point. This requires creating a Strategic Plan for your business. Breaking down the visionary journey into key milestones and SMART goals.


SO FAR SO GOOD?


Great. Hopefully you have all those things. And the good news, it’s the best time of year to be focused on your Vision and Strategy if you don’t have them – most of our clients’ work over New Year is working at this level.


BUT …..


For so many small businesses, that’s where it ends. The owner has a great vision that excites him or her every day. They have a well thought-out plan that they know will deliver the required results.


And then they expect everyone to follow that plan.

THAT is the first place it all starts to go wrong.


Is your Golden Thread cut? The importance of sharing your dream


It’s simply not enough for the owners – or even top executives, who may have equity share or bonuses tied to performance, knowing and believing your dream. Everyone has to embrace it. That can start from the top down, but your aim needs to be to trust every single person in your team, with executing their bit of that shared purpose.


Getting Buy-In


The first part of creating a shared purpose – and with that, engagement - is to get genuine buy-in from your people. You need to share your vision with them. That includes your personal vision.


No, you’re never going to bring them on board if your sole aim is to become a billionaire at 40 – not unless it’s clear how you’ll bring them along for the ride. But if your vision means all staff members get to spend more time with family, are encouraged to upskill or have opportunities for travel, it’s easy to get most people on board.


Your purpose should be powerful.


Live, breathe and sing out your purpose, so people can be part of creating something positive and valuable.


Fred Hollows sought to end unavoidable blindness. In so doing his foundation embraced principles of integrity, empowerment, collaboration and action. That is the sort of inspirational purpose and ethos that many people will buy into, because they passionately believe in the outcome and/or approach. It’s up to you as a business owner to encourage personal development along your values, exemplify personal responsibility and leadership and include at least some aspect of social responsibility in your business. Think about the big banks – yes, they make large profits from your money, but to offset that, they are among the most active in ‘giving back’ to the community. Some would say that’s just PR, but it opens up new opportunities and it also gives employees and customers something they can get behind …. that isn’t just the teller queue.


What about your way of operating?


Perhaps your personal vision included that you wanted to work 20 hour weeks and take 3 months a year off, so you could be with your family more.


How about extending that to the lives and working practises of those that work for you. Perhaps they are parents too. Or have relatives to care for. Or issues of their own.


Creating a great work culture and organisational approach is key to the economic viability of your business. But it’s also essential for bringing team members on board.


Let’s imagine your vision requires you to operate an online service, with minimal in-person sales or servicing, that relies heavily on recorded content and workflow automation. Historically that would have been seen as a threat to the existing employees’ roles. But communicated right, it’s an opportunity for them to work a 3-day week, be location-independent, move into a more interesting niche role, or win by profiled-related bonuses.


Really think about the ways in which your Vision and Strategy can appeal to your team, to the point they love the idea of coming to work. This is that Shared Purpose, which is the first aspect of creating a Golden Thread through your organisation.


Is your Golden Thread Knotted? Smoothing out each stitch


After you’ve got real passion and drive running through your organisation, you need to make what to do about it crystal clear. People simply can’t relate what they do at 10am this Wednesday, to your company’s results for Q3 2022. You need to spell it out for them, by linking every step from Company Strategy down to individual tasks.


Creating a Communication Bridge


The challenge is creating logical links between each level, so that any one person can truly understand their vital importance in delivering your organisation’s results. Here is the basic chain:

Understandably, most staff will struggle to relate the minutiae of their daily To Do list, to the gargantuan task of fulfilling your strategy. Spelling it out for them requires several steps, often thought of as ‘Chunking Down’. This process repeatedly splits big areas into smaller and more manageable pieces.


Accountability vs Responsibility – What is your place?


Have you got an Organisation Chart? Be honest, you’ll be surprised how few organisations do.


But your Organisation Chart is a simple and vital tool for translating your Strategy into your daily reality, by ensuing the structure of the business is correct, and that there is someone accountable and responsible for executing EVERYTHING required for success.


The person DOING THE WORK is RESPONSIBLE for it. Often, their manager Is ACCOUNTABLE for it. That is, the Marketing Assistant might be responsible for printing brochures and placing ads, but the Marketing Manager is responsible for developing a Marketing Strategy that will meet the needs of the overall strategy, and overseeing the work required to deliver that Marketing Strategy.


Too often the Organisation Chart stops with the role that is responsible for work and forgets to consider the role that is accountable for it. That means we get a situation analogous to building a wall: all your people represent the books, but no one has thought about the mortar. Your wall WILL crumble.


Assigning accountability enables business owners to set a more general scope for what a role is expected to deliver. It also means some really key things from a cultural and leadership perspective:

  • Each Accountable individual is entrusted with a portion of the strategy, which means they are empowered

  • Assigning Accountability means handing over rights as well as responsibilities. Yes, that role must deliver. But as they are to be held accountable, they have the right to request any resources they need to execute. If they are not supported with these resources, they cannot be expected to deliver.

  • Accountability is a more general term than responsibility here. Stop thinking about the lines of a Job Description. Instead, you can use phrases like, “Responsible for designing and managing execution of a marketing strategy that will support our strategic growth forecasts”. It reduces the mortar in our analogy, because it is inclusive

  • It empowers staff members, because everyone is given an agenda, a budget (ideally) and a place on the team delivering strategy. They can arrange the details and only escalate if there’s an issue

  • It reduces the pressure on senior staff, who have been overwhelmed trying to design and execute each detail. Hire the right people, train them in the essential skills and give them recourse to others …. And suddenly that team of T-shaped individuals will pay off. Leaving the owner free to focus at last on their own areas of accountability

What steps should you take?


You will need to create your Organisation Charts and include Accountability prominently on all JDF’s. Everyone should know what everyone is accountable for.


Then based on your Strategic Plan, chunk it down into smaller and smaller pieces. In Q1 you want to implement a CRM. That will be a key strategic objective for your IT, administration and customer service teams at least. And so it must be added to their objectives, on a team and individual basis … and reconciled against the day to day work already expected of them.


Is your Golden Thread frayed? When the system disintegrates


So, you have a shared purpose that inspires your team.


You have a clear understanding of each team’s contribution and each individual’s role.


You have opened the communications channels for ensuring those accountable are not only held to it, but able to ask for assistance if they are struggling, or have identified a risk to their ability to deliver their agenda.


‘But it’s all unravelling’


That feeling that everything should be in place, but that it’s all unravelling or fraying, is all too common.


And it’s incredibly frustrating.


Somewhere, things have become unclear, or staff are feeling unable to deliver their full objectives.


At the midst of it all is an owner, baffled about where all that planning and communication went wrong.


You can’t control what you can’t measure


Hopefully you set Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) as part of the objectives required to deliver on areas of Accountability and Responsibility. KPIs are great, but they are very specific and usually relate to the bricks, again running the risk of ignoring all that essential mortar. Because they’re often numeric, they’re also quite hard for many people to identify with.


The solution is to go back a level. Have you heard the term ‘Critical Success Factors’?


What is a Critical Success Factor?


It’s a management term for an element that is necessary for an organisation – or project – to achieve its mission. They are the things driving whether results are attained – and can be quantified by KPIs.


In other words, they’re more human. More generally applicable. And more relatable. They include general strategic approaches, such as communication, teamwork and innovation.


Examples include

  • ‘Increase market share through current customer base’

  • ‘Align incentives with employee objectives’

  • ‘Improve communication across departments’

  • ‘Be service-oriented when working with customers’

Once you have CSF’s in place, you can set KPIs that test if they are being delivered. You can define their effectiveness. And you can follow the chain down from the loose to the specific, using SMART Goals to frame objectives and creating a set of daily activities which meets the daily requirements of the role PLUS delivers the strategic requirements.

The final frontier – linking Performance to meeting objectives


As you can see from the diagram above, there is now an extremely clear link between what the business wants to achieve, and what the individual needs to do, to make that a reality within timeframes.


At this point, the most common missing link is the final step. Performance Management.


Not another 1 to 1. Not a fluffy feel-good chat. Not unjustified criticism.


A simple, clinical assessment of what the individual’s responsibilities and accountabilities were, what their resulting objectives and goals were …. And the extent to which they have delivered those objectives over the period. By bringing in CSF’s you will also have a set of behaviours that you are looking for staff to demonstrate; these can also be assessed.


It’s usually best to do this as a 3, 6 or 12-monthly cycle. Starting frequently can let staff get used to the process before it matters at the end of year performance review, and lead to speedier feedback to ensure progress is on track.


And the ultimate?


Money talks. The golden thread can become a literal thing, if you tie an incentive scheme to individuals’ performance in setting and delivering to their objectives. Their achievements are your success. Return the favour and see behaviours improve naturally as staff embrace this new way.


Not sure where to start?


The critical thing here is to create a shared purpose for your entire organisation, and have the systems in place to hold everyone accountable for contributing to that. Following the steps outlined in this article will give you a logical sequence that builds on the previous step and gets everyone involved from Day 1.


If you are still unsure, you can always call us. This is where Operations Manuals and leading people come together to make a beautiful whole. It’s our bread and butter, here at May Dynamics, so if you do want some help implementing this, a call to us could be a good place to start.

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