Leadership lag

Between the visions of corporate leaders and the realities of their employees lies a gap the size of the Grand Canyon, according to a survey conducted last spring of more than 11,000 U.S. workers.

FranklinCovey, which as a company focuses on effectiveness assessment and training, surveyed frontline workers, managers and executives across a broad range of private companies and government agencies on how well their organizations function. The responses to the statistically valid “Execution Quotient” study paint a Dilbert-like picture of the workings of U.S. organizations.

Regarding high-level goals, only 52 percent of employees said their organizations have decided what the most important ones are, and only 44 percent said they clearly understand the goals. Only 19 percent of survey respondents said their work goals are clearly defined, and a mere 9 percent believe their work has a strong link to their organizations’ top priorities.

So just what are U.S. workers doing all day long? Nearly a third of survey respondents’ time goes to activities that demand immediate attention but are mostly irrelevant to top organizational goals, such as unproductive meetings and micromanagement. Another 19 percent of their time is spent dealing with internal bureaucracy.

Personal effectiveness guru Stephen R. Covey, who is the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and vice chairman of FranklinCovey, offers some advice on countering this dismal prospect. First, leaders need to settle on a few clear top goals and then incessantly communicate them down the line. Covey warns that it’s easy to assume that frontline workers are aware of organizational goals when in fact they’ve never received the message. Second, workers at all levels must understand how their work aligns with the top organizational goals. The best way to accomplish that, Covey says, is for each person to work with her manager in formulating her individual work plans. And in a corollary of Covey’s famous “first things first” mantra from The 7 Habits, he advises employees at all levels to be disciplined in their daily work. Rather than being sucked into tasks that seem urgent but are only superficially important, everyone should think about his priorities each morning, build a work plan that will result in the greatest progress toward top goals, and then stick with the plan throughout the day.