Over the next few articles, we are going to explore four simple Human Element (Hu) principles for performance that those leading teams, groups, and companies can easily remember and apply. They are Coherence, Climate, Challenge, and Celebrate. Today we begin with the first principle, coherence, which is really the foundation for the others.
Coherence is an all-encompassing word that covers a multitude of daily practices and activities. It is at once both broad and minute in its application. It is crucial at every level of leadership and work. It could be confused as just communication, but it is so much more than this. It involves not only the transmission of purpose, task, and outcome, but it also provides for everyone in the group meaning and context for how things are done, why things are done the way they are, and how all the things the team does fit together. It provides a perspective that the leadership and group have concerning the value and role of its members.
Coherence by Example
Let me share an informal but good example of how leaders can provide coherence. I did some work with an oil and gas service company and spent time meeting with various folks getting an idea of the culture and goals of the company. What was truly fascinating was the number of stories retold to me about the founder and owner. People could relate to me why certain brands of trucks were bought over others because they were the first truck supplier to take a chance with the then-new company. They know who they used for tires, again because a local manager of a tire company came out personally at two in the morning to change a tire on a large rig. And most of all they could tell you how much staff were valued by the owner. Folks would come to work in the morning and find this old guy working under a unit and chat with him only to find out later he owned the company. He would show up in the shop and work alongside the crews, and he told them they were valued. He would take great pains to speak with them about their salary and bonus policy and how it was structured to allow the company to keep as many working during downturns so that folks would not need to be laid off.
How did he provide coherence? First, he provided by example, the importance of loyalty and appreciation - remember the trucks and the tires? He communicated the value he placed in his staff and demonstrated that with policies that upheld that commitment. He provided an example of a way of doing things that they all emulated. To say that the company was a reflection of his attitude and approach would be an understatement.
Clarify the "Why"
We don't expect all leaders to provide this type of example, but the principle nonetheless is valid. Starting with the Owner, President, CEO, and right down to the front line leadership, it is the leader's task to communicate why we exist, how we behave, how we do what we do, what success looks like, what is the focus right now and who does what. The top leadership team should be absolutely clear about the answers to those issues, and they, in turn, provide clarity to their direct reports and ensure that information is passed down the line accurately and clearly. When that is done well, there is no confusion around expectations, goals, and outcomes.
Why is this important? Let me highlight this with two different companies, two identical operations positions, and two very different approaches. In the first company, the operator has no clue about those issues or an understanding of the answers and how they fit into the big picture. They do their part of the work, collect a paycheck, and have a minimal investment in the company. The second company operator has had these things communicated to them. They understand the overarching direction and approach of the company and their role in it. They don't just see themselves as a small cog in a big machine but see themselves as a part of a team whose goal is to outclass the competition. They can tell you how downtime hurts the company, and they are always looking for ways to improve their part of the company. One operator has coherence with their company, and the other doesn't.
You Interpret the Company to Your Team
As a leader at any level, there is an expectation that you provide coherence. You interpret the company to your team, you communicate the context for how what they do is relevant, and you set them free to pursue adding value to the group and company. After-all everyone wants to be part of a winning team. That is what Hu centered leadership is all about.