In an ever-changing and volatile environment, a business is confronted with a barrage of possibilities every day. Every input it receives begs a response.
Some organisations bury their proverbial heads in the sand and ignore what they don’t want to address. Others respond reactively and (sometimes unintentionally) poke the beehive. Yet others try to force the narrative in a direction they prefer while the environment pushes to stay on-point.
How can a business manage the influx of inputs and still come out successful on the other side? It doesn’t boil down to good luck or coincidence. It’s about crafting intention.
Intent on intention
A company needs its stakeholders to feel a connection with the business. Mission and vision statements are elements towards building that resonance. However, without purpose, the mission and vision will remain static words on paper. And, where purpose is clear, intention is strong.
Intention speaks to mindfully applying the mission, vision and values to build a holistic package of behaviour to reach business goals. Intentionality translates to the business having developed a strong clarity of what it should attend to in a specific moment.
The business understands the variables within its control and channels its attention intentionally. This process takes place on three fronts: the organisation as a system, business units or teams and on a leadership level.
- Intention on an organisational level
On an organisational level, intention plays out in the form of the corporate culture. Corporate culture is not as intangible as most leaders think, says Dr Kelli Klindtworth, a Strategy Principal at North Highland.
Culture can and should be actively monitored and managed by leadership. One of the biggest mistakes leaders can make today is to fail to see culture as an urgent priority to be crafted, shaped, and directed.
Klindtworth says that leaders who understand intent know how to “assess engagement, ensure alignment, push performance levels, drive innovation, and promote change-readiness and resiliency in the face of change.”
To monitor culture with intentionality, leaders should focus on a combination of the following eight key levers:
The eight levers encompass the complete structure on which a business system is built. The levers include strategic ambitions, shared beliefs, professional development, leadership styles, language, functional environment, key performance indicators and recognition.
Dave Fechtman, CEO of Velocity Advisory Group, says that organisations that are purposeful about their culture outperform their competition routinely. He highlights company morale and retention as key reasons to manage a culture with intention. He notes intentional culture as a significant asset in attracting and retaining high-performing talent.
High-performing employees are the bedrock of high-functioning, or elite, teams. High-functioning teams that deliver results purposefully transcend into teams with intention.
Teams with intention are crystal clear about their goals and how to reach them. Each role player’s responsibility is mapped out in detail. The team is disciplined, aligned, integrated and goal-oriented. From the outset, teams with intention are designed to encourage every member to act in the team’s interest.
A team with intention features four characteristics: performance mindset, one-team culture, flexible leadership and a clear direction. Although a team with intention takes responsibility for itself, Fechtman argues that flexible leadership is the dynamo driving a good team to greatness.
Leading with intention should not be confused with wielding the sceptre, says Suzanne Bates, the author of Speak Like a CEO and All the Leader You Can Be.
A leader who adopts intentionality has a sustained focus on a goal that has purpose and meaning for the business. It’s an approach that is much more complex than merely being self-assured and steadfast. And it’s certainly not about commanding with an iron fist!
Intentionality in leading invites a balance of assertiveness and inclusiveness. Leaders with intention cultivate trust and psychological safety. They empower their teams and have faith in their teams’ abilities. Sure, they check in on their teams, but they don’t check up on them. They create meaningful connections and put a premium on effective communication.
These leaders’ focus is to pave the way for alignment while holding the roadmap towards success. They know what needs to be done to get a certain resolve.
Bates says that intentionality does not mean adopting the attitude of “it is my way or the highway”. Instead, it is cultivating an informed perspective. The leader’s outlook should be driven by data, including what they learn from their team.
The intentional leader builds a clear plan which everybody understands, buys into and adopts. They also deliberately encourage feedback and flexibility.
A lack of intentionality slows down strategic execution. Running a company without intentionality as underpinning wastes time, loses money and estranges talent. Team members get discouraged and lose momentum. When people don’t have a roadmap to success, each will follow their own path – and most probably stray or stumble.
By Anja van den Berg