What’s Possible When You Begin With the End in Mind?

Stephen Covey advises us to “begin with the end in mind.” We know that this mindset is effective when working on a project, plan or other deliverable. It also is a very helpful to have this in mind every time you communicate. What do I want the person with whom I am speaking or working with to think, feel and do?

To illustrate my point, let’s look at my own experience in leading a specific project. Many years ago, I engaged in a company-wide project to develop a formal performance management process. I was rolling out this process to a group of restaurant executives and operators who had never had a systematized way to measure performance. My goal at the time was to develop a consistent process and to have it completed annually for all leaders. Being the “expert,” I made some assumptions like who wouldn’t want a consistent and integrated method of defining, measuring and talking about individual performance? Surely they could see how much easier this would make their people decisions.

But, I did not begin with the end in mind. I failed to clearly define what the end even looked and felt like, including what they would receive once the process was implemented, e.g. “this is a simpler, clearer feedback tool that addresses the key aspects of what success looks like here.” Because I saw myself as the “expert” in performance management in the company, I made assumptions that everyone would be thrilled with a new tool. I expected them to feel grateful. When it came to what I wanted them to do, I over-communicated. True, a focus on tasks is a common (and not always helpful) management approach. In my situation it left managers with a task orientation, without a broader understanding of the purpose of the project and with a limited emotional investment in the project. In other words, this project was a just a big checklist.

What I found was that, without clearly discovering and leveraging the insights of the broader audience before moving on to the “do”, I failed to engage them in supporting and leveraging the tool to create meaningful, relevant and robust conversations around the human potential in the organization. Instead, they thought I was complicating the process and creating just one more HR process that would never get used. Of course, they also may have felt left out of the process, since I had not engaged them early with the “end in mind.”

In retrospect, I would have listened to Stephen Covey and started this major project with the end in mind. I would have created a vision of where we were going with performance management. I would also have clarified for myself, and for the people most affected by the work, what the impact would be on the employees, leaders and the organization. I would have more clearly and carefully explored what they thought about the project, what they felt about it in our particular work context and what it would take to do the work.

Sometimes the simple lessons come from difficult experiences. Beginning with the end in mind creates clarity. Clarifying what you want your team to think, feel and do provides context. Outlining what needs to be done inspires action.

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