The Art of Strengths Coaching

M is for The Mission, Maintenance And Magic Approach

People love to have a sense of mission. They love to feel they are contributing towards achieving something worthwhile. This can provide a sense of meaning to their lives and work.

Good leaders encourage their people to keep focusing on the team’s mission. They do this whether they are leading a project, running a national health service or doing another activity.

Such teams are serious about committing themselves to the mission. They do not write mission statements which they then ignore. They accept both the pluses and minuses involved in delivering the mission.

Good leaders recognise that they are accountable for delivering the mission. They often have mission holders, however, who take responsibility for achieving aspects of the goals. These people are given the autonomy and authority required to deliver their part of the mission.

Such leaders then mobilise the team to achieve their goals. Different leaders do this in different ways. The result, however, is that motivated people choose to opt in. They then clarify their contributions towards achieving the mission.

Great workers follow the key strategies required to do the maintenance and consistently deliver high standards. They make sure everything gets done. They then, when appropriate, add the magic on the way towards delivering the mission.

Let’s explore some of the steps that people take to pursue this route.

The Mission

Charles Garfield, the author of Peak Performers, said that people are driven by a sense of mission. A clinical professor of psychology, he saw this approach in action when he led a team of engineers, scientists and support staff on the Apollo 11 project.

Charles said that people, teams and organisations mobilise great strength when pursuing motivating missions. People want to serve a cause, follow their vocation or deliver a stimulating project. He wrote:

People want to feel proud of themselves, to achieve something, to leave a mark and a contribution, and they follow their plans for doing all that purposefully and tenaciously.  

The most powerful human motivator of all is the desire to be proud of ourselves in the pursuit of something we care about deeply.

Different teams will have different missions. They may aim to find a cure for a disease or to solve a pressing social problem. They may aim to build an innovative product or to deliver a worthwhile project. They may aim to use their strengths to do superb work that helps people to achieve success.

People must believe in the mission, because otherwise things fall apart. They must also believe that, providing they do their best, they have a reasonable chance of achieving success.

Susan Ward produced an excellent definition regarding a mission statement which is reproduced below.

A mission statement is a brief description of a company’s fundamental purpose. It answers the question, “Why does our business exist?”  

The mission statement articulates the company’s purpose both for those in the organization and for the public.  

Different people have different views of what constitutes a mission. Military missions, for example, must often meet the following criteria.

They must have achievable objectives, the required resources, be time based and have a clear exit strategy.

Military people then know what they must achieve by a certain date. It is also vital to have an exit strategy or, in some cases, a transition strategy.

Clarifying A Mission

Imagine that you lead a team. This could be the team you are in at the moment or a team you want to lead in the future.

There are many ways to clarify the team’s mission. Sometimes it may be handed down by people higher in the organisation. If so, it is vital that:

People believe in the mission; 

People have the chance to take ownership – within certain given parameters – of how they use their strengths to deliver the mission;

People then do their best to deliver the mission.

Imagine, however, that you lead a team that creates its own mission. One approach is to focus on the following steps.

Strengths

You can build on people’s strengths when clarifying the mission and picture of success. 

Service 

You can encourage people to serve something greater than themselves and work towards a stimulating picture of success. 

Success 

You can make sure that, providing people work hard, the team has a good chance of achieving the picture of success.

You can craft the mission by yourself or with some of your key people. Later it will be important to involve the whole team. Before then, however, it is vital to clarify the specific aims and plan.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to start by describing the team’s mission in one sentence.

The sentence does not have to be perfect or to cover every eventuality. But it is good if it describes what the team wants to achieve. The exercise then invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific outcomes – the real results – the team wants to achieve by delivering the mission. 

Describe the specific strategies the team can follow to give itself the greatest chance of delivering the mission. 

Describe the specific benefits – to all the various stakeholders – of delivering the mission.

The Mission Holders

Good leaders recognise that they are accountable for delivering the mission. They often have mission holders, however, who take responsibility for achieving aspects of the goals.

Imagine that you want to take this step in your own way. Who are the key people you would like to act as mission holders for aspects of the plan?

Many potential mission holders will be duty driven and already doing good work. Bearing this in mind, they may need people to step up and take over some of their current duties. This will release them to take the extra responsibility.

Mission holders will need to keep you informed, but they need to be given the authority and autonomy required to deliver the goods. Here are some things to bear in mind when considering who can play this role.

Imagine you have clarified who you want to be mission holders for aspects of reaching the goals. Bearing in mind their strengths and styles of operating, you can invite them to decide if they would like to take such a role.

You can set-up one-to-one sessions with such people. You can the aim:

To explain the strategies for achieving the mission;

To explain that you would like them to consider being a mission holder to deliver part of the mission; 

To give them chance to reflect on whether they would like to contribute in this way to deliver the mission.

If so, you can then make clear contracts with them about what they want to deliver. One approach is to invite them to complete the following exercise.

Imagine that you have met with the key mission holders and made clear contracts about their contributions. It will then be time to move on to the next stage.

The Mobilisation

Good leaders mobilise the team to achieve the goals. Different leaders do this in different ways. The result, however, is that motivated people choose to opt in. They then clarify their contributions towards achieving the mission.

Such leaders often start by giving people the context. They explain the background, the strategy and the goals. There are some emergencies, of course, when this may not be appropriate. But even then it is vital that people know the outcomes to achieve.

Good leaders believe that people work best when they understand their parts in the big picture. This is especially the case when leading knowledge workers. People then more likely to commit themselves to achieving the mission.

The following section describes an approach that I have seen work many times with teams. It takes time but, in the process, people take real ownership in terms of delivering the goals.

You may prefer to truncate the following steps, but I am explaining these in full. You can then adapt these in your own way.

Communicating The Mission

Gather people together and explain that you want to communicate the mission. You can underline that:

You are committed to achieving the mission and you have also talked with some people in the team who will act as mission holders for delivering parts of the mission; 

You want to give people the big picture, explain the context and focus on the next steps towards achieving the mission;

You will then give people the chance to contribute ideas towards achieving the mission.

The next steps after the session will be to implement the strategies for delivering the goods. You will then invite people:

To decide whether they want to contribute towards achieving the mission – you only want volunteers not conscripts:

To then, if they do want to help, to meet with the respective mission holders and make clear contracts about their best contributions;

To ensure that they set things up to succeed and then pursue the strategies for delivering the mission.

You can explain the background for the mission. During this session it will be important to communicate the themes covered earlier. These include the following.

The Mission

The Specific Goals

The specific outcomes – the real results – we
want to achieve by delivering the mission are:

* To …

* To … 

* To …

The Specific Strategies

 The key strategies we aim to follow to give
ourselves the greatest chance of success are:

* To … 

* To … 

* To …

The Specific Benefits 

The specific benefits – to all the various
stakeholders – of achieving the mission will be: 

* To …

* To … 

* To …

You can answer any initial questions regarding information about the mission, but it is important move on to the next stage. This is giving people a framework they can use to collect questions and contribute ideas for ensuring the mission is successful

Invite people to form groups. One of the people is to lead and facilitate the discussion in each group whilst another is to be the scribe. Both can contribute ideas. People in each group are to give their responses under the following headings.

Like 

The specific things they like about the aims, strategy and mission. 

Additions and Suggestions

The specific additions and suggestions they have regarding the aims, strategy and mission.

Concerns and Questions 

The specific concerns and questions they have about the aims, strategy and mission.

Success Rating 

The present rating they would give regarding the team’s chances of delivering the mission. This to be done on a scale 0 – 10.

The specific things they believe people in the whole team can do to maintain or improve the chances of success.

Give people at least 30 minutes to do the exercise. People’s ideas are to be written on a flip chart as they go along.

If you are the leader – or if there is a leadership team that has introduced the strategy – you can give people twenty minutes to get started. You can then go around and look at the themes that are emerging. This helps you to prepare to address the themes and answer any questions.

(You will have told people beforehand that you will be going around to see the themes that emerging.)

The next step is to invite people to report back. You can make notes and it can be useful to cluster the themes and questions that emerge. You can then respond and answer more effectively.

Responding To
People’s Presentations 

You can thank people for their presentations. It can also be useful to explain that you will apply the following guidelines when giving your responses.

You will aim be honest and answer as fully as possible. You will do this because you want people to understand the strategy, the rationale behind it and the steps going forwards.

You will focus on the overall strategic issues when answering the questions. You may not be able to answer all the questions in the session. You will be able to get back with some answers. There may also be questions that, because of certain issues, you will choose not to answer.

If appropriate, you will set aside time over the next week to meet individuals and answer their questions. They can book a time to see you.

Bearing these things in mind, you can embark on answering the questions and responding to the ideas.

Good leaders see these sessions as an opportunity to educate people about the strategy. People go away with a wider grasp of the issues. They are then more able to explain the strategy to new people who join the team.

You can conclude it by explaining what will happen next. These may include the following steps.

The mission holders will meet with people who want to contribute to delivering certain aspects of the mission; 

They will make clear contracts with these people regarding their best contributions;

They will then co-ordinate people’s contributions to delivering the various parts of the mission.

Imagine that you have completed this part of the session. You can then move on to the next stage.

The Maintenance

Great teams make sure all the basics get done and they also maintain high standards. They do this whether they are running a hospital, caring for people in a society or delivering a mission.

The leader and mission holders often co-ordinate people’s strengths to achieve the goals. They aim:

To pursue the chosen strategies for doing the maintenance and maintaining high standards; 

To co-ordinate people’s strengths to do superb work and, when appropriate, to find solutions to challenges;

To keep checking reality – to see what is working and what can be improved – and doing what is required to deliver the mission.

Different teams use different approaches to focus on the strategies and actions they are going to pursue. One approach is for them to use the following framework.

Great teams keep reading reality. Different teams do this in different ways. Some keep focusing on the specific things that are in the Green Zone, Amber Zone and Red Zone. They then act on these issues.

Some teams embody the ethic of continuous improvement. They keep focusing the following themes: 

The specific things that are working and how they can do more of these things;

The specific things that can be done better and how they can improve these things; 

The specific potential future challenges and how they manage these on the way towards delivering success.

Such teams believe it is vital to keep doing the right things in the right way every day. They aim to maintain high standards. Some go a step further and move on to the next stage.

The Magic

Great teams sometimes add something special. Sometimes individuals step up and do exceptional work. Sometimes the whole team rises to the occasion and add that touch of magic.

Imagine that you want to encourage your people to take this step. One approach is to invite them to do an exercise on this theme. You can introduce this in the following way:

“Great teams keep doing the maintenance. This is mandatory. Such teams maintain high standards and do what is necessary to deliver the mission.  

“Sometimes they add the magic. They may go that extra mile to give great service, provide exceptional medical care or do something special to deliver success. 

“Good service providers, for example, build on the old idea of blending high tech and high touch. They get all the technical things right and also add the personal touch. They do something extra to help their customers achieve success.

“Bearing this in mind, I would like you to each write Post-it Notes describing the specific things that we may be able to do to add the magic.”

Depending on the kinds of work they do, different teams produce different ideas when doing this exercise. Here is a snapshot of some ideas that teams have produced.

Magic. The things we can
do to add the magic are: 

To put the right people in the right places in the team … To get the casting right by putting the right people with the right customers … To encourage people to use their strengths to help our customers to succeed.  

To keep delivering the Scorecard – the mandatory things we must deliver to keep our bosses happy – and to also do stimulating projects that benefit the organisation … To build successful prototypes and produce success stories. 

To create a stimulating office environment that works for introverts – who like quiet spaces – and extroverts … To involve everybody in our regular monthly updates about the progress we are making towards achieving the mission.  

To spend 50% of our time out with customers and become trusted advisors to them … To work with pacesetting customers – those who are tackling challenge that others will face in the future – and help them to find solutions to these challenges … To use this knowledge to produce our own future products and services.  

There are many models for building fine teams. One approach is to keep focusing on the mission and appoint mission holders. It is to mobilise people to always do the maintenance and then add the magic.

You will, of course, apply these ideas in your own way. Here is the exercise that you can use to encourage people to produce ideas for adding the magic.

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