The missing link for real success

Creating Shared MeaningYou’ve made sure everyone understands your organization’s mission, vision, and objectives. They know their individual goals and they understand their job descriptions and responsibilities.

That’s great.

And it’s not enough to inspire individuals and teams to their best performance.

If it were enough, there would be no lack of follow-through on decisions, no actions out of alignment with the vision, no misinterpretation of goals.

And yet, we see these disconnects all the time.

A retail business wants its customers to perceive the high-end value of their products and writes a professional dress code for store employees … but even the owners don’t follow it.

A non-profit’s mission is to help its clients heal emotionally … yet the Board, employees, and volunteers fail to communicate and are often at cross-purposes.

A consulting organization teaches leadership and executive excellence … yet its internal workflows and fundamental business processes don’t support profitable growth.

Issues such as these develop in any organization; it’s a natural part of how an organization (or a team) grows and evolves.

The challenge is to refuse to accept it as the “new normal,” but instead to address and solve the root cause – and reap the rewards of a truly cohesive, high-performing organization.

The root cause of internal disconnects

The root cause is simple: a lack of shared meaning.

But wait, you say. Didn’t this article start out by saying everyone understands the organization’s goals?

Yes, indeed.

But that doesn’t mean there’s a sense of shared meaning.

Shared meaning goes well beyond merely understanding the goals.

Shared meaning has to do with context: why are we working toward this goal?

And shared meaning has to do with understanding each individual’s and the whole group’s experience of the key terms used to describe the goal.

Their experience. Not just the intellectual understanding, but the full experience, emotional and physical as well as intellectual.

In the case of our three examples:

What does “professional” mean to each person at the store – and to the store’s customers? Are the individual definitions aligned into a shared definition for the business?  

How do the non-profit’s employees, volunteers, and Board define “communication”? Do they share a common commitment to clear, clean, honest communication?

Do the leadership and business consultants share a belief in what they teach that goes beyond the ability to intellectually serve their clients? Have they internalized a shared meaning for leadership and effective business practice?

I think you can see, just in the brief examples I’ve outlined here (which are all drawn from experience), how powerful shared meaning would be for each of these organizations.

Creating shared meaning

Creating shared meaning is one of those “simple but not easy” things.

And like many simple-but-not-easy things, it’s crucial to your success.

Creating shared meaning requires time, real conversations, and a willingness to be open to new ideas and differing perspectives.

It takes honesty in speaking the truth of how each person views the deeper meanings of these pivotal words and concepts. It takes respect in receiving the reality of others’ meanings even when (especially when) they diverge from yours. It takes vulnerability in exploring the emotional meaning of words and concepts, not just the intellectual dictionary definition.

It takes courage and persistence to reach a shared meaning that everyone can fully align with – right down to their bones.

And it’s transformative for your success.

So take the next step. Talk with your colleagues, your employees, and your leadership about creating shared meaning within your organization.

And if you have questions or want to tell your stories of how creating shared meaning has changed your experience – drop me an email. I personally read and respond to all.

gljudson Leadership