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Defining the “Playing Field” for Your Organization

Defining the “Playing Field” for Your Organization

Have you ever seen kids playing a game of American football on a playground? It’s pretty interesting because what they do could actually teach senior management at many companies a core secret to creating “inspired performance”. Of course inspired performance is when employees are totally committed to their company, their team and their customers. It’s when an organization has a team of players that doesn’t just do what they are told but that does what needs to be done – on a consistent basis, all the time, because they actually WANT to do it, not because they HAVE to do things. This is the exact opposite of a team that is only “compliant” – defined by a burning desire to “do their eight and hit the gate” without expending any more effort than they absolutely have to in order to keep their job.


What is it that kids do on a playground when they are getting ready to play a game of football? Well, they define the boundaries of the game first and they make sure that all the players on the field know exactly what it takes to succeed and move the ball down the field. Everyone knows what is “out of bounds”, what it takes to get a “first down” so they can continue playing and everyone also knows where the goal line is and how they can score a “touchdown” to be successful.

Even young kids know the importance of making sure that all the players on the field are on the same page and know what they need to do to succeed. Yet, astonishingly, many organizations never clearly define their organizational “playing field” to the team and they don’t even know what high performance looks like. Employees are sometimes running in the dark, not knowing where the goal line is and not really understanding what they are expected to do to score a touchdown. In some cases, accountability standards are set up and recognition programs are put in place when employees don’t even understand the definition of high performance. In essence, people are expected to “take the hill” with no clear long-term goal in mind even if they reach the summit. This is a too common scenario where people have no idea of how to be excellent and no standard to aspire to in order to be their best. It is hard to consistently exceed past, best performance when nothing is defined and the only constant within the organization is ambiguity. 

Next week I will provide five tips to take your organization to a new level of success. For this week, I would like you to think about being “explicit” instead of “implicit”. Many managers typically say things like, “Oh my people know how I think. They know what I want”. When, in actuality, since they are not mind readers, they really don’t know what you are thinking and they don’t know what is expected of them. The only way people can truly know what they need to do to succeed in the organization is to have that message clearly and explicitly communicated by the leadership.

“Implied” communication will never mazimize the performance potential of an organization. Although many managers tend to think an “unspoken request” will get results from their people, that only serves to create confusion and frustration. Go to a drive through window at a fast food restaurant and see how successful you’ll be with your order while executing a strong “unspoken request”. While that may seem like a ludicrous analogy, the way some managers expect to communicate with their people, through only vague implications, is just as outrageous.

This week, work on being totally explicit instead of just implicit with your communication. Next week we’ll delve into five specific and explicit tips to maximize your organization’s results.

-Michael Stahl


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