Mike Klein: Commscrum Scandinavia
For many years, there has been a big chase on to find out what drives performance—and profitability in organizations. This chase has led to a lot of suspects, a lot of ideas, and more than a few insights. But the real truth—the real driver of extraordinary performance—has been buried in a pile of terminology and obscured by sectarian selfishness.
“Engagement” screamed one pack. “Behavior change” howled another. “Policies and procedures!” “Values”! “A sense of higher moral purpose!!!!” “Better communication!!!!!” “Leadership!!!” “Management!!!”
The problem with these words and their associated sectarian sentiments is that they all spoke to manifestations of something far bigger, more powerful and more universal—a factor I think is as big as financials and operations at the very heart of organizational performance.
Intent is the organizational “why”. Every organization has an organizational why—an intent of some sort. And intent is no less powerful than resources—or skills—in the financial and operational arenas.
Why is this a “new” conversation? Partially, it’s because our thinking has only just become clear and sharp enough to look at the range of behavioral, motivational and cultural issues as manifestations of one core corporate driver, and partially, it’s because the business world has continued to focus on finance and operations as “the real work”.
The ramifications of identifying and addressing intent as a third core driver of performance are monumental—and I hope stimulating of a long, powerful and productive conversation. But here are a few hypotheses to start the discussion with:
- Purposes, values, goals and performance measurements are all manifestations of intent and need to be treated as such
- The lack of coherent or stated purposes, values, goals, and performance measurements is also a manifestation of intent
- Intent is at the heart of the value chain and creates and destroys the bulk of an organisation’s value. And those who work with refining, championing, and sharpening the delivery of that intent are people who do “real work.”
- If communication and communicators are to be quick winners in this world, we need to start taking ownership of intent—consistency, integrity, resonance and distinctiveness of actions as well as words
- Organisational inconsistencies are inconsistencies of intent rather than simply inconsistencies of internal and external messaging that a good old-school PR pro can handle
- While the CEO and Board are ultimately responsible for the public definition (or unspokenness) of organizational intent, communicators and HR people are extremely well situated to reinforce, amplify, illustrate and operationalise that intent into actual daily practice.
- Intent drives sustainability strategy.
- Intent drives strategy, period.
- Nothing destroys value like a measurable gap between stated intent and actual performance.
- Nothing creates value like a measureable path between stated intent and actual opportunity.
It is important—vital—for today’s communicators to recognize that intent is “our” space. The only thing that is really new is that the opportunity is there for the rest of the business world to recognize its centrality—or absorb a beating from choosing to ignore it.
And this is not a breaking down of silos between internal and external communication—indeed, internal and external comms will require different craft skills for some time. It’s a breaking down of the glass walls that have kept communication on the organizational periphery. And it looks those walls have even been melted down into the clear, clean and substantive links we form at the very heart of the value chain.
Kevin Keohane – CommScrum London
I’ll keep it uncharacteristically brief and not very Commscrum to say I agree, but I do. I think the issue is – what intent, whose intent? Or – perhaps more importantly in your post – the LACK of it. It’s probably the latter that is oddly the most pervasive in many organisations. Business As Usual allows you to not worry about intent.
Enter Value Disciplines, stage right, again. Is the intent Operational Excellence? Products and Service Excellence? Or Customer/Market Intimacy? Sure, many of these “intentions” will overlap but I just conducted an exercise that demonstrated that a company that stated the “intent” of Customer/Market intimacy spent 90% of its effort engaging and communicating about Operational Excellence. Which wasn’t contributing much to consumer insight. Maybe that’s another post… exit, pursued by a bear, on the road to hell.
Lindsay Uittenbogaard – Commscrumming from The Hague
And another agreement here, wholeheartedly! Fantastic post, MK. Seminal, possibly 🙂
This ‘intent’ that you describe, seems immediately to overshadow and connect a combination of efforts in our field that now seem immature: cross-discipline alignment, congruence across the whole organizational strategy – and truly living that, connecting the brand with behaviors etc.
Now, dare I burst this pink fluffy intellectual bubble by asking – isn’t the identification of ‘intent’ just wrapping up lots of old things together into one new! improved! challenge that still has the same barriers to overcome?
The leaders of any given organization would probably not contest the notion of really nailing ‘intent’ as a driver but might have some doubts about whether or not his / her team of individuals (that all have their own perspectives, cultures, styles, competences…) are able to actually ACHIEVE a strong and unified level of ‘intent’ to the extent that you envision. Of course in many different ways, people have been trying to pin down a common core intention (particularly leaders, communicators, HR practictioners, change agents etc) for many decades. The difficulty is bringing these people together to really think and act as one – and the crux of the problem is that ‘intent’ is something that individuals or teams need to own, to fine-tune themselves… it is almost personal. It would need to be recognized that political games would need to step down, as would innovative thinking of the ‘rogue’ kind (that has been known to end up contributing to wider strategy as a fluke).
The above concern around DOABILITY could just be something that sounds right but is just infact pure pessimism. Can a mass of individuals in an organization pull together to manufacture and deploy clear, crisp and consistent intent?
What do you think?
Dan Gray – CommScrum London (at least for now)
Bugger. I’d deliberately hung on till last in the hope that either KK or Lindsay might say something that I could pile in on, because I too love the post, Mike (all very un-CommScrum I know!).
You’ll recall that when you and Mr Trainor had your usual spat about terminology on the “Time to say goodnight to employee engagement” post, I referred to these labels as “the first signal of intent” (a phrase that’s also used by Bill McDonough in one of my favourite TED Talks on design for sustainability). So I’m intuitively drawn to your thesis.
Then KK brings up Value Disciplines again as a valuable lens to identify and institutionalise that “intent” – to get organisations thinking about, and structuring themselves around, that one thing (the crux of Lindsay’s comment) that they can really excel at. Zero disagreement there either. Damn it!