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7 ways to align employee and organizational goals

Cheryl Gittens

7 ways to align employee and organizational goals

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One of the most challenging roles in leadership is the charge to influence others to meet organizational goals with a level of motivation that redounds to organizational success and personal achievement.
This is challenging because while organizational goals are easily accessible through such media as the company’s mission statement, strategic planning documents and department plans, employee goals tend to be private, not generally known or widely shared.
The categories of needs depicted in Maslow’s Hierarchy familiarize managers with the types of goals that employees pursue. This goes some way in helping managers appreciate and design the types of incentives and rewards employees consider attractive enough to make the effort to achieve desired personal results.
According to Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in their book Built To Last, it is the manager’s job to achieve such alignment. While organizations have big hairy audacious goals (BHAGs), a term coined by the authors, so do employees.
A common goal that employees and people in general have is to own their own home. However, knowing that an employee wishes to have the security of a home does not translate into a manager’s “front-of-mind awareness” to help him achieve that goal specifically. An employee also would not typically translate the company’s goal to achieve a 20 per cent increase in market share directly to acquiring her home either.  
Hence, managers’ continuing frustration and bewilderment that employees seem oblivious to the connection between their efforts and the company’s success.  
“If only they could make the connection, they would understand that if they helped us to successfully meet our goals, they would meet theirs,” complained one entrepreneur.
There is a simple solution to this problem. Get to know your employees. This is simple but not very easy, so a more nuanced approach must be taken. First, it takes time – and who has the time to get to know people these days?  
Secondly, it requires employees to be willing to share their important dreams. In order to achieve that, managers must have good rapport with employees. This rapport may be born out of personal power or personality, or sponsored by an existing culture of trust and openness.  Thirdly, be aware that employees will desire different goals at different stages of their lives (based on experience, qualifications, anticipation of continuous employment). Thankfully in each of these scenarios, awareness, mentoring or training can deliver the results managers are looking for.
So here are a few ways managers can achieve employee-organizational goal alignment.
(1) Educate (not preach to) employees about the connections between their efforts, company success and their goals. Speak to profits and don’t be afraid to share financial information.  Employees’ expectations become more realistic when you educate.
(2) Keep it simple. Refer to Maslow’s Hierarchy as a tool for helping you identify employee needs.
(3) Ask them directly. Informal conversations and workshops are good opportunities to get this information. Be empathic and recognize that you too have needs. Note your own failings in perceiving alignment in the past. Support employees with resources to achieve goals through motivational seminars, books and speakers.
(4) How employees pursue goals differs.  Employees determine the attractiveness or value of achieving their personal goals and in turn decide the relative ease with which they can achieve them. If they determine, for example, that little effort is required, then as a manager you will be disappointed with their non-commitment to company goals. If they decide more effort is required then you are likely to experience employee engagement.
(5) In addition to goals, ascertain employees’ values. People can only operate according to their value systems. If you know what they are, then people’s behaviour is for the most part predictable.
(6) Make incentives on the path to goal achievement attractive and make company goals challenging.
(7) This is a continuous process which should be used to inform successive strategic and departmental plans. Employees need to hear their voices articulated in the company’s vision and mission.
However, managers must “behave themselves into” (a phrase coined by Dr Stephen Covey) these company pronouncements if they are to increase their influence to achieve desired alignment.  
• Cheryl Gittens is a life performance coach to professionals, and a lecturer at the University of the West Indies.