Why having a 'True North' is mission critical

The term “True North” might be a bit of a business cliche these days.  However it is a cliche for a reason - it is still key for a successful business. You might be saying that this is obvious.  Yet a survey conducted last year by Te Waka (Waikato’s Regional Economic Development Agency) showed that less than 50% of small / medium businesses don’t have a plan.  Even fewer had a plan to plan!!

For leadership - this might be one person or a leadership team, having a clear defined direction and a set of goals is one thing, keeping it current is another.  But by just having a plan puts you at an advantage to at least half of your competitors. Once there is a plan, it surprises me how many business leaders do not keep their business objectives alive, talking about them with others, updating, modifying as necessary.

There is a little tip in that last statement as well - talking about it.  Being transparent with the business goals with a whole team to me is the beginning of creating an engaged workplace. If you have never read any of my blogs in the past, I am all about creating a transparent, engaged workforce - because this drives better productivity.  Consistently it has been demonstrated that an engaged workforce is up to 20% more productive.  

Why is this?  The first aspect is everyone knows what the expectations are.  No-one is feeling left in the dark if the organisations goals and objectives are freely shared and discussed.  Teams know what is mission critical and what is just ‘white noise’. There is nothing more disempowering than turning up each day, putting the effort in when there is no feedback, no connection to the overall purpose. This can be shared by discussing the big picture or long term goals.  By long term, I mean nothing more than 12-18 months.  Anything longer is pipe dreams, if 2020 taught us something, knowing the whole environment can change literally overnight, hence don’t plan too far out.

The other major benefit of having a current ‘True North’ is that it makes decision making so much easier and transparent for everyone.  Business improvement activity can be prioritised by the objectives.  If you have a great idea that helps the business move in the right direction, it progresses.  If it does, it gets respectfully parked until another time.  It is black and white, a binary decision. Teams and individuals will begin to understand why something progresses and others don't.  Leadership can use these opportunities to reinforce the goals.

Without a clear direction and priorities for a business, there can be a lot of well intended activity.  However this effort and time may be going in many different directions.  Business improvement activities can be all for nothing. 

Spending time understanding the business goals are also an important step.  Too often they are written by an individual and put up with little time discussion and interpreting what they mean for different teams and individuals.  Everyone will have a different perspective on a simple statement. I see this in every Lego Serious Play workshop.  A seemingly simple statement or question is put up for the team to explore and discuss.  Yet everyone creates a different metaphor, a different story to the question.  But it is through this process that clarity occurs and a single vision is created.  Everyone is on the same page, everyone has been able to express their view.  All of these perspectives are represented in a final team creation.

When was the last time you as a leader, stopped and talked to your team about the direction of the business, what is in it for them, what inspires them to do a great job every day?  Doing this on a regular basis is mission critical.  Stop, slow down and refresh that ‘True North’. Lock it into the calendar - every six months put a couple of hours aside and talk about the goals.  Are they still relevant, what are you doing that is helping you achieve the goals, what is creating a headwind.  Bringing your people together into this conversation is so important, empowering for them.  The more you share, be vulnerable the more you will be repaid by creating an awesome culture, a purposeful environment that involves everyone.

All of this can be achieved by having a clear set of goals and objectives.  Having a “True North”. Call it what you like but make sure it is written down (not just in your head) and shared with everyone.  That is the first step to having a great business.


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