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Are You Playing to Win?

Your #1 job as a leader is to create a compelling vision of winning, then keep yourself and everyone else in the organization focused on it with laser-like intensity. Are you focused on winning and moving towards it each day, celebrating milestones along the way? Or do you play to not lose?

When an organization lacks a clear destination, it usually has many ill-defined ones. Employees feel unmotivated and uncommitted. Time, talent, and resources get wasted on products and projects that go nowhere. And people end up working on their own personal agendas rather than doing what’s best for the company. They think they’re doing the right thing, but directions changed and someone forgot to realign them.

Having a clear definition of winning provides focus and clarity at the individual, team, and organizational level. It gets everyone aligned and moving in the same direction. And it motivates and inspires people to perform at their best. When employees know where they’re going and what they need to do to get there, it becomes much easier to reach your destination.

So, how do you get clear?
Pause to think about what really matters: what does winning look like for you? What do you need to do — as individuals and as an organization — to win? What will it look like when you have won?

Answer these questions with as much specificity as possible. For example, identify the key operational and financial metrics that you will have achieved. Paint a picture of what your workplace and culture will look and feel like when you have won — what attitudes, beliefs, and core values will the organization be living by?

Identify the skills, knowledge, tools, technologies, and abilities you will have acquired or enhanced in order to win. What organizational structures will be in place? What new products or services will you have brought to market? What new customers will you have acquired? How will you have leveraged the customer relationships you already have?

Now what?
Share it with everyone in your ecosystem. Not just employees, but customers, vendors, suppliers, partners, alliances — anyone that has a stake in helping you win.

Instead of presenting your vision of winning like a quarterly financial report, make it come alive! Use it to inspire people. Talk about why winning is important to you personally, and why you feel so passionate about where the organization is going. Link your vision of winning to the bigger picture by letting people know how they will have made a difference in the world when you have won. At the same time, point out what’s in it for them when the organization wins.

Keep it up!
To stay focused on winning, also get clear on what you will not do. Then make sure those things don’t sap your time, energy, and attention. Make a list of all the major initiatives and big projects that no longer fit your definition of winning and shut them down.

Most leaders know intuitively when a project no longer makes sense because the goals have gotten out of sync with changing market realities. Yet they still cling to the belief that they can somehow squeeze some mileage out of a dead horse. Don’t let outdated assumptions and thought bubbles prevent you from getting those obstacles to winning out of the way!

Help your organization stay focused by setting clear individual goals that link directly to the organization’s key strategies for winning. Then give ongoing feedback on how they and the organization are doing. You’ll know you’re communicating enough when every employee can answer these questions without hesitation:

  • What are my top priorities?
  • What are the three primary objectives I need to achieve this week/this quarter/this year?
  • How will I know I have been successful after I have worked so hard this week/month/quarter?
  • How will we know when we have won as a team? As an organization?

As the leader, you set the tone for your entire organization. Does your language and behavior reflect a relentless approach to winning? Or does it reflect a willingness to settle for being second best… or less?

Take the assessment below and pause to consider what you need to focus on today.

Playing to Win Self-Assessment
Respond to each prompt with a “Yes,” “Somewhat”or “Not at all”

  • We have a crystal clear definition of winning for our organization
  • We communicate our definition of winning to all stakeholders on a regular basis
  • Employees at all levels understand and can articulate our vision of winning
  • Leaders constantly talk about why winning is personally important to them
  • Employees understand what’s in it for them when the organization wins
  • We regularly review and eliminate projects and initiatives that no longer support our definition of winning
  • Employees throughout the organization can articulate their three primary objectives for the week/quarter/year
  • We play to win every day in every meeting rather than playing for second best

If you did not respond “Yes” to all of these, consider what you can begin doing differently right now to refocus and stay aligned to winning. If you are not playing to win, why are you playing?

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