"It's harder to keep the crew rowing if only the captain can see where he's going."
The workers in many organizations are like crewmen on a Viking ship.
They sit with their backs toward their intended destination and have no view of where they're headed. Only quick peeks over their shoulders or orders barked from a superior tell them if they're headed in the right direction. And yet they are expected to keep rowing, hour after hour, day after day.
Not surprisingly, many workers in a Viking-ship business don't really deliver their best. They have to be prodded and cajoled. They come in late, stretch their breaks, surf the web on company time, and slip out as early as they can. They're there for the money and not much else.
Proverbs says "where there is no vision, the people perish." Without a vision of the company's big picture, many workers are dying a slow death of ignorance and apathy. They don't know where the organization is going and they don't care. They can't change jobs due to the recession, so they end up chained to their oars like galley slaves.
They row, but they're gritting their teeth the whole time.
This is a serious matter. Viking-ship conditions can be dangerous not only to crew members but also to the business itself.
The first casualty in a Viking-ship business is customer service. It's hard to smile when your teeth are gritted. It's hard to go the extra mile when your heart is full of apathy. It's hard to appreciate the lifetime value of a customer relationship when you can see only as far as next payday.
The second casualty in a Viking-ship business is creativity. Why imagine a better way when all you can see is where you've been? Why invent when you have no purpose but to survive? Why innovate when it produces no reward for you?
The third casualty in a Viking-ship business is high-performance employees. Those with quality skills, self-drive, and strong resumes don't have to put up with such an environment, even in a down economy, and they find ways to jump ship. As they exit, the morale and productivity of those left behind nosedives.
With the loss of customer service, creativity, and high-performance employees, the Viking-ship business goes into a death spiral. Like a ghost ship, it may continue to lurch forward for a time, but its long-term fate is sealed.
So if you're a business owner or group leader, how can you avoid this Viking-ship phenomenon? I have three simple suggestions.
Get clear about where you want your organization to go. If you don't know, there's no way the group can know. If you don't know, then finding out should be JOB ONE for you. Nothing else is more important. You need to take a retreat. Hire a coach. Have a heart-to-heart with your spouse. Cloister yourself with trusted lieutenants. Do whatever it takes to get clear on where you're going.
Share your ideas with your team. Tell them your "we've arrived story," the story you want others to be telling about your organization when you get to where you want to go. Tell it from your heart and your gut, rather than your head. Let them feel your passion and sense of purpose. Trust them with your vision.
Involve them in refining and implementing the vision. Most people on a team want it to be successful and they've thought about how to make that happen. In my experience, when I empower my team to co-author the "we've arrived story," they make it their own and assume ongoing responsibility for figuring out the best way to make it come true. If you allow your team to join you in defining success and identifying the pathway to it, they will respond by finding a better way than you had in mind. Then they will man the oars with surprising zeal and commitment.
When I trust my team with my vision, they honor that trust by charting the course, weighing anchor, and hoisting the sails. After that, it's full speed ahead. Our collective "we've arrived story" becomes a true narrative, almost as if by magic.
Aye, aye, captain.