So many managers I talk with tell me that one great source of their frustration with the job, is obtaining a sense of accomplishment day-to-day. This is an experience I well remember and it never ceased being a challenge.
The management job itself — with its never-ending onslaught of little, often unrelated matters confronting you – easily leaves one feeling that you may have coped with a great deal on any given day, but actually accomplished nothing significant enough to write home about. Before I became a manager, I worked on projects, generally one at a time. Each had a beginning, a middle and an end. If the project turned out well, I could take a few days to relish my sense of accomplishment, before throwing myself into a new beginning. As a manager, all this changed.
Moreover, as I became more senior and moved into the executive level of management, I discovered I had even lost control of most of the hours in my work day. Others scheduled my activities; either meetings requiring my attendance, or meetings with me that others requested, to discuss matters of significance to them. If any of these individual matters somehow coalesced into the solution of some important larger problem or challenge, it was pure serendipity.
So what does this experience of managerial reality teach us about achieving a sense of real accomplishment; achieving something of larger importance than agreeing to someone’s reassignment, or granting permission to rearrange the stock items in aisle six? What it taught me was the importance of “CHAMPIONING A FEW BIG GOALS”.
If one steps back from most management jobs, one can usually identify some larger issues, matters of significance and challenges that could prove more vital to the success of an enterprise, than solving the day-to-day problems one encounters. Here I am talking about BIG things not resolvable in a day, a week or two, or a matter of months. I call these grand or big goals that if accomplished can make a substantial difference in how well the organization performs. Moreover, these are precisely the type of goals only a dedicated, patient and persistent manager generally has the authority to accomplish.
For example: eliminating past poor management practices that have had a profound negative impact on employee morale; refocusing your subordinates on the “core competencies” that lie at the heart of your organization; encouraging and fostering a culture of employee initiative that unleashes a sense of empowerment and a passion for creativity in daily work accomplishment; transforming a fear-based, permission seeking culture, into one characterized by a trusting, “let’s experiment with some new ways of doing business” way of thinking; igniting a renewed passion for outstanding customer service among everyone under your charge; or teaching a workforce — accustomed to a “management speaks, employees listen” form of communication — how to engage management in a collective, respectful dialog that identifies the best ideas for solving organizational problems.
None of these grand goals will be easy, nor will they be accomplished overnight. Nevertheless, goals like these are worthy of any manager’s dedication and are the means through which the best managers create the lasting legacy for which they will be remembered.
So pick your BIG GOALS, whatever they are. I recommend sticking to no more than one or two, since the more you divide your attention and energy commitment, the less likely you are to succeed. Focus some time and energy on your big goals on a daily basis and ask yourself frequently what more you can do to inch them along.
Make certain your subordinates and superiors know what your big goals are — reminding them often — understand why you think they are important, and dedicate yourself to their pursuit no matter how long success may take. Talking about your big goals frequently, reinforces your seriousness in pursuing them and helps recruit others to your cause.
In making day-to-day decisions, consider how those decisions either further or perhaps hinder your goal objectives. Avoid decisions whenever possible that undermine your objectives. Remember that Southwest Airlines evaluates every major decision they make in terms of how those decisions foster their one, big goal: remaining “America’s low-cost Airline”.
When subordinates take initiatives that support your goals, celebrate those initiatives publicly as exemplars. What you want to encourage is the “imitation effect” across your organization.
While the pursuit of grand goals will not shield you from the minutia that often constitutes a manager’s average day, it gives you a higher sense of purpose that transcends your daily responsibilities; a purpose that supports and helps your organization perform at its best.
Remain patient, persistent — dogged and stubborn if you will — in pursuit of your big goals and a real sense of accomplishment will eventually be your just reward.