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02 November 2013

Communicating the Organization's Direction: The Missing Ingredient

The average worker could not tell you the vision of the employer.

To some degree, the average worker can perform just fine without knowing the mission and goals of the business. However, knowing the purpose of the work can guide decisions made in the course of the work. Perhaps more importantly, having a known, defined purpose can motivate the worker by providing a roadmap to the work's contribution. It provides a personal connection to the work and to the company. This, in turn, improves performance and retention.

Leadership can improve overall performance by communicating the vision, mission, and goals of the business, as well as the specific objectives of each project. (To cut down on wordiness, I'm going to combine all of those messages and call them the "direction" of the business.)

This topic could take up a whole book, but I will address a portion that I think leaders tend to forget. The specific methods and tools used will vary during the lifecycle of a project. For that reason, I would recommend organizing a more complete description of the topic around process groups or project phases:
  • Project selection
  • Project initiation
  • Project planning
  • Project execution
  • Project monitoring and control
  • Project closure
Defining the direction is part of creating the business plan. Any responsible business owner will create most of those materials and update them regularly. From there, communicating the direction requires breaking each section into a PowerPoint presentation, asking lower-level leadership to give it visibility, putting it to work in the organization, and setting up systems of accountability.

Businesses commonly forget to ensure that the elements of the business direction flow down to projects. Leaders present and promote the direction, but they also need to communicate it through actions that create the processes and provide the tools for carrying out the direction and controlling its implementation.

Just as the business needs to continuously review and refine the direction, the projects need to ensure alignment with the business direction. For example, many project managers set the contract as the highest level of requirements. However, many decisions made within a project depend on the business direction.

Leadership can take one step to communicate business direction by empowering Project Scope Management. They can do this by making available a good Requirements Management System (a tool such as DOORS or CORE). The project managers should then include the business direction's documentation as the top level of each project's requirements. During the project lifecycle, the project can ensure that decisions support the business direction and all requirements trace to the business direction.

Many leaders focus on communicating business direction through presentation. However, they must also communicate it through action. Obviously, actions include specific soft-skill behaviors such as demonstrating the importance of meetings by prompt attendance. But they must invest in resources that empower their teams to use direction as a tool and to use it as the measuring stick of performance.