Businesses lift many working metaphors from sports and political campaigns because both these spheres are compelling and dramatic. What gives sports and politics their drama is precisely what many businesses fail to incorporate: clear scoring and defined, unambiguous endings.
Sports clocks count down. The buzzer sounds. The polling booth closes. We assess results and celebrate or mourn accordingly.
In business, declaring an ending is an act of will, not a procedural requirement. Final tallies and conclusive endings are too often optional. I have seen organizations struggle with reporting back to employees on things as fundamental as engagement survey results.
In The Advantage (a very good, highly recommended read), Patrick Lencioni talks about “One Team, One Score.” If the game never ends, there’s no score to go by.
Every election has a public winner, but businesses can kick off dozens of campaigns and not report final results at all. Some may point to passive quarterly earnings calls and sales metrics to supply some sense of quarterly results, but these ongoing occurrences rarely connect all employees to a sense of closure and accomplishment.
On the most fundamental level, experts from Jonathan Haidt to John Kotter widely agree that people sustain change best when we engage their emotions. Stories are one of the better ways to do that, and effective stories need endings. If your company is in an unproductive cycle of launches, ask yourself how that will land over time on a workforce that you want to inspire towards engagement and accountability.
I was recently at a company that had three Mission, Vision and Value rollouts in three years under two different CEOs. It was a tough environment (and an extreme example) but made worse by sweeping prior efforts under the rug without comment. Doing so denied the company powerful opportunities to:
- make early efforts a narrative that could apply to future efforts
- acknowledge a positive kind of vulnerability that might invite the employees on a journey to better results
Ultimately, the company settled on a stronger Mission, Vision and Value proposition, but the skepticism of ignored prior efforts made even good ideas harder to implement. Again, stronger score keeping and clearer endings would have helped the organization:
- praise champions or encourage renewed effort
- celebrate the community for tenacity and the ultimately positive collective impact that happened when we worked together
Untended, corporate efforts will pile up and accumulate. This is especially true in organizations facing increased pressure to change.
Just when it seems that there is not enough time to do everything, that is precisely when communicators need to signal leaders that it may be time to pause and bring prior efforts to closure. Doing so will help employees face new challenges with a sense of positive momentum and clarity. Ignoring it allows accumulating corporate efforts to get overwhelming.
In a prior blog post, my friend and fellow communicator, Kari E. McLean rightly pointed out that this orientation has a lot to do with Stephen Covey’s 2nd Habit: begin with the end in mind.
So don’t take it from me: consider endings before beginning your next change effort. Here are a few of the benefits:
1. Endings are essential to good stories, and stories inspire people. Endings don’t even always have to be happy. When you fall short of a goal, communicating that is just another opportunity to build trust and credibility with employees.
The reverse side of that is that every corporate kickoff that disappears without comment discredits ensuing efforts and reinforces employee skepticism and disengagement.
2. Endings help you prioritize the metrics that will define success at the end of your effort. You need baskets in basketball… How will you keep score on your next initiative?
I recently spoke with a CHRO client who singled out Soteres Consulting for helping her set strong metrics for HR efforts as part of our communication planning process. Communicators can bring powerful new perspectives to help you think about metrics as a score or “desired outcome.” Use us!
3. You need endings to add heft to the business decision whether to launch a new grand effort. It is too easy for divisions and large support functions in an organization to insist that their efforts deserve company-wide campaigns.
Without a solid strategic foundation, the communications function will be too weak to say no to requests that may not apply to all employees or may simply not be a priority relative to other pressing efforts.
Beginning with an end in mind helps establish a consultative approach and business rigor that can make constituents more thoughtful about introducing new grand kickoffs.