The Greater Goal: Connecting Purpose and Performance

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The bestselling coauthor of The Serving Leader (over 90,000 copies sold) provides a roadmap that all leaders can use to create and align entire organizations around an inspiring purpose that drives superior performance.

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1. Hard Drive

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At 5:30 a.m., with late summer thunder rumbling in his ears, Alexander Beckley slumped in his chair, staring at his computer screen. Every now and then, lightning flickered across his face. The monitor glowed in the dark, highlighting the divot in Alexs nose—a souvenir of his college boxing career. Another flash of lightning revealed the worry lines and a little gray in his short blond hair. Alex didnt blink. His head felt hot, his stomach felt cold, and his heart was somewhere north of his Adams apple. All he could see were the words glaring back at him:

From:

Dan Meyers [mailto:dmeyers@beckleymedical.com]

Sent:

Tuesday, April 19, 2011 11:52 PM

To:

Alex Beckley [mailto: abeckley@beckleymedical.com]

Subject:

Board meeting follow-up

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

Alex,
Hearing strong feedback from the board on last nights call.
They know you are working hard, but frustration levels are rising.
Call me to talk.

It was signed by the board chair and acting CEO, Dan Myers. Alex knew he was now in danger of losing the support of the company his father had founded. I will fail him even in this, he thought, watching light flash across the room.

 

2. Restart

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When Quinn McDougall walked into Alexs hospital room, Alex was sitting propped up by pillows, blankly watching the monitor beside him. His right arm sported a blue cast. An exotic, octopus-like machine made by Beckley Medical was attached to his crushed left leg. A laptop was attached to the machine. Prototype, Quinn thought. Alex Beckley? Quinn said, taking Alexs good left hand and gently squeezing it. Im Quinn McDougall. How are you feeling?

Alex studied his visitor. Quinn had wispy white hair and a ruddy face. A smile played at the corners of Quinns mouth. He looked vaguely familiar.

Better, Alex said. The painkillers help.

Quinn settled into the chair next to Alexs bed. They talked about the accident and the hospital. Alex learned that when Quinn was young, he had also been confined to a bed, with both legs broken, for an entire summer—My own close call, Quinn said. He confided to Alex that while he was laid up he had read incessantly, even memorizing favorite passages, and discovered he had an abnormally proficient memory. I used it to get myself into Oxford and a good business school here in the States.

 

3. The Greater Goal

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Quinn wrote words next to the star and pushed the placemat toward Alex.

Commit to the Greater Goal

The Greater Goal? Mine or the companys? Alex asked.

Both actually, Quinn responded.

If youre talking about the Beckley mission and vision statements, we have those: I read them. They are pretty good.

This is deeper, Alex. The Greater Goal describes the very best you aspire to for customers, employees, and frankly, the world. But its more than a description. It should effectively call each person and team to give their absolute best. It provides the strategic frame for determining what business you should be in to add the most value. Its not just naming the mission and vision; its the process of committing to them and acting together on them that makes the difference.

I need a little more help with that, Alex said. How is that different from our mission and vision?

Let me be clearer with some examples, if you would allow me. I have a client that is a world-class healthcare organization by todays standard. Its mission and vision are centered around delivering the best possible care to every person who comes its way. When the leaders began to ask new questions about their true Greater Goal, it changed the entire organization—for the better.

 

4. Healing

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At noon on his first day home from the hospital, Alex heard his mother in friendly conversation on the front porch. A moment later she led Quinn through the front door by the arm. Alex realized instantly that if Quinn had once been his fathers friend, then he was likely his mothers friend too. But why have we never met before? Was I so distant from my parents life that I did not know a close friend like this?

How are you? Quinn asked as he strode into the den.

Okay, Alex said. Im glad to be home. Its still a challenge with Rachel. I deserve it.

Give it time, Quinn said. Did you do your homework?

I did. It was hard.

Alex picked up the notepad and tossed it to Quinn. He had scribed awkwardly with his left hand since his natural writing hand was covered in a cast. I started with the personal, then the company.

Alex was suddenly struggling for composure. Quinn, I want this to be a family, a real family, again.

Quinn followed Alexs gaze to a carefully arranged group of photos within sight of the bed. They were pieces of a family, each in its separate frame. Alex had pushed them together.

 

5. Benchmark

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Quinn made a call to his friend the dean of the Kepper Business School. Doug Holiday was waiting for them at the main entrance of the school. This was Alexs old stomping grounds—back when he could stomp.

Welcome back, Alex. Call me Doc; everyone does. Come into the office. He led them to a room where an ancient desk complemented the modern space. Alex admired it.

Doc said, It belonged to Thomas Mellon, who started a bank here in town. I keep looking through the drawers, he said, demonstrating by pulling out a hidden cubbyhole drawer, looking for old stock certificates.

Quinn grinned and pointed out to Alex a framed star on Docs wall.

Doc looked up at the star too. Quinn claims we have done a decent job of gaining commitment to a Greater Goal—

Quinn interrupted, In spite of knowing every theory of strategy, change management, and leadership ever devised.

Quinn opened his notebook and sketched the star again. As I said on the phone, were here to look at the first practice of the Star Model. Alex is on a venture through all five practices. Quinn wrote Commit to the Greater Goal at the top of the star. Alex wants to know how you set and gain shared commitment to the schools Greater Goal.

 

6. Feedback

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Driving back from the visit to Kepper, Quinn turned onto Thomas Boulevard and parked in front of the Beckley home, a classic American foursquare craftsman house. One could imagine it new in the late 1800s, projecting confidence in the future.

Alex asked, What are you hearing from my team in your interviews?

Do you want to go through this now, Alex? Its been a big day for you already.

I want to hear it—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Well, then, why dont we go inside? My friend Ken Blanchard calls feedback the breakfast of champions. I have my notes with me. If you will make the tea, I will provide the feedback. The two men went inside, chatted of this and that while making their tea, and then sat down together.

Im ready, Alex said, but his body said, Im nervous.

Quinn began. It is clear to everyone that you bring energy and drive to Beckley. But the practices you brought to the company carried unintended consequences.

Ouch, that sounds bad. Alex winced.

Your intentions were good—everyone recognizes that. Quinn reached in his briefcase and pulled out a folder. I interviewed all the members of your senior team to get their very best thinking on several key purpose and performance questions, and I learned that they have common perceptions about whats working and what isnt. Naturally, I also got some outlier responses, and those can be very helpful. But first lets look at the strengths that were described, then well look at whats not working.

 

7. Shared Goals

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Beckley Medical was headquartered in a classic industrial building buried in the quiet heart of a Pittsburgh neighborhood. Inside the crisp, white-and-blue lobby, dozens of Beckleys products were proudly housed in display cases. A portrait of Russ Beckley, the founder, graced the room. Beyond the desks of the office administrators, Kevin Jordan and Quinn McDougall sat at a steel boardroom table.

Alex has shown me something, Quinn was saying.

I can see it too, said Kevin. But the senior team is afraid hes going to come back and go right into his old ways. Alex handed out more goals than we can possibly meet. Then it was push and tell or sometimes stop and yell. I remember a football coach like that. Both men laughed at the image.

Quinn said, Alex has made a good start on his view of the Greater Goal.

Same here with the senior management team, Kevin added.

So I suggest its time to bring Alex and his team together, continued Quinn, to finish drafting the Greater Goal as they see it. Then we can move on to the next key practice, Construct Shared Goals.

 

8. Unintended Consequences

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A week later Alex got a very early morning visit from Matt Joachim, the head of human resources.

Have a seat, Alex said, waving him in. The two men caught up on a few personal matters before they got down to business.

Whats up, Matt? Alex finally prodded.

Well, since our team meeting last week, Ive been thinking a lot about alignment and doing some investigation on my own.

Great! Alex encouraged.

This has been right under my nose, but Ill just tell it to you straight up. Ive been wondering why we have so many medical products in the pipeline barely inching their way forward. What could be going on here? Im no engineer, but I am a pretty good human resources guy.

You are, Alex agreed.

Well, I started interviewing our engineers, asking what they were doing day to day—how they were spending their time and allocating their efforts to products—and I found something rather remarkable and disturbing.

You have my attention, Alex noted and he leaned forward.

Each engineer, Matt continued, pushing a graph across the table to Alex, has been distributing time across an average of six or more products.

 

9. Challenge

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The next day, Alex wheeled down to Nates office. Once the two friends were in conversation, Alex quickly realized that Nate was more than a little upset.

Nate politely inquired about Alexs health, his daughter, and his mother and then launched into his grievances. They were mostly directed at Kevin, Quinn, and the Greater Goal thing.

I cant believe youre supporting this stuff, Nate said, practically sneering. What happened to you? Did the crash rattle your brain?

Alex just listened. He had brought Nate into Beckley with him. When Nate finished, Alex said, Nate, give this a chance. I need you.

Nate frowned and twisted in his chair. He wasnt happy, but he agreed, Okay, youve got me, boss. But as soon as Alex left, Nate called several other people in the company to commiserate and conspire to resist the Greater Goal Takeover. He had to save the company and save Alex from himself.

Quinn drove Alex home that night. Alex was quiet, but Quinn drew him out. Quinn, I like what were planning with this warehouse session, but it is different from anything Ive ever done. What if people dont participate or buy in?

 

10. Join the Company; Join the Cause

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On a bright Monday morning in a rented warehouse in East Liberty, Quinn, Alex, and the senior team prepared to greet their guests. More than two hundred people would be present, including all of Beckleys management members and many other key stakeholders, would be present. As the guests flowed in, they passed a table stocked with tea, coffee, juice, bagels, and fresh sliced fruit. Fuel in hand, they made their way to the auditorium-like section of the warehouse, where dozens of microphones and a circle of chairs had been arranged. On the other side of the warehouse, Quinn and a half dozen facilitators had set up a forest of tall, movable whiteboards, laptops, projectors, wireless keyboards, rolling chairs, and tables. Images from Beckley Medicals past successes were moving across the walls in time with high-tempo music.

When everyone was seated, Alex stood up from his wheelchair and grabbed a new pair of Beckley ultralight aluminum crutches. Quinn sat nearby holding a giant to-go cup with a tea-bag label hanging over the side. Kevin Jordan sat in the front row with an iPad that would control the multimedia.

 

11. Shared Leadership

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The next day the warehouse buzzed with excitement and anticipation. People talked in animated clusters over breakfast. Alex limped around on his crutches, listening to their conversations. He sensed peoples excitement—now he would ask for their commitment. All of this enthusiasm was about to go to work!

CEO Dan Meyers stepped up to the microphone. Today we will set shared goals for the company. This means we all share in the leadership of the company. Speaking for myself, this will be the first time I have been part of an opportunity exactly like this. I know that you may have some reservations about what we will accomplish and what can truly change. I personally believe we have a great future together, one where everyone can give his or her best, and we can create benefits for ourselves, our customers, and really, everyone we touch. I invite you to suspend your judgments and join me. Focus on your strengths, our new possibilities, and how we can make a difference together.

Dan turned the attentive audience over to Kevin Jordan, who announced the agenda and process for the day. Beckleys senior leadership team acted as facilitators, helping guide people together into predesigned small teams within designated areas of the open warehouse space. Each team space included a circle of chairs and large, movable whiteboards that functioned doubly as writing space and as walls between the teams. While on the previous day people had been situated in cross-functional teams made up of those who didnt always get a chance to work together, today they were organized by function, with their usual teammates. Day one of the off-site had been a refreshing change, and now, rejoining with their normal work groups, they felt renewed energy gained from a sense of new purpose, possibility, and perspective.

 

12. Community

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Within a week of the warehouse session, Alex had three encounters that let him know things would never be the same at Beckley Medical. The first was with Matt Joachim, who called very early in the morning while Alex planned and pondered at his desk.

Could I catch you before the staff meeting, Alex? I see you are scheduled pretty tight today, and Ive got something I think you will want to hear.

Sure, come on over.

Im here already, Matt said, literally finishing his sentence as he walked into Alexs office and plopped down on the couch.

Whats the good word? Alex prompted.

The word is community,

Matt replied with a quickness that surprised Alex.

Okay, go on, Matt. Whats the story behind the word?

Matt framed an imaginary picture with his hands, like a movie director. Ive been seeing something odd in the lunchroom. I eat there every day, and I noticed there was, well, something different after the warehouse session. It took me a few days, but then I suddenly got it.

Got what? Alex asked.

The cliques are breaking down. For years, Ive noticed how employees eat together and stick together in their cliques, their clans, and their clubs. But something else is happening now. Our employees are mixing across the clans and the clubs, and the noise level in the lunchroom is higher than ever. So like any good HR type, I decided to investigate. Every day at lunch, I moved my tray around and listened in on the conversations.

 

13. Greater Goal Coaching

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Alexs assistant overheard the whole exchange with Dr. Stan and stepped back into Alexs office to comment, Isnt that great? I do wish your dad was here to see that. By the way, Quinn is here to see you.

As Alex waited for Quinn to come in, he looked around his office. Posted on all four walls were enlarged pictures of the whiteboards from the warehouse sessions with the goals and initiative descriptions. Almost metaphorically they covered up many pieces of Alexs past accomplishments. He smiled to himself as he realized how much he appreciated the current office artwork. Quinn joined him in his office and also noticed the new dcor. What do you think of whats happened, Alex?

Amazing, Alex answered. I just had Dr. Stan in here giving me some great stories. Just amazing—I never knew there were so many great ideas and such great energy for our Greater Goal. I guess when you constantly just tell people what to do, you never really tap into the greatness that lies within them. His voice betrayed some sadness.

 

14. Reinforcing Alignment

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After work, Quinn drove Alex to his favorite local restaurant, a chic place called Casbah. Once they were back in Alexs neighborhood, Quinn strolled and Alex hobbled through Frick Park, just around the corner from Alexs house.

Alex got to the point. I have to deal with Nate. I think I knew from the beginning that this was coming. How do I do the right thing? The men walked and talked about the situation with Nate.

After a while Quinn steered the conversation in another direction. Alex, I wish I could tell you Nate is the only problem you have, or that you will ever face, on your journey to a Greater Goal. Hidden in your company are forces that will undermine the hard-fought alignment you have gained. Every company culture has built-in rewards that work in opposition to alignment to the Greater Goal. Identifying and defusing this opposition is critical to achieving ongoing alignment. He pulled a small card from his back pocket and handed it to Alex. Upon unfolding it, Alex looked upon another hand-drawn star with a new practice added.

 

15. Dinner and a Guest

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Saturday at last! Alex and Rachel were cooking—their third Saturday feast together. This time it was to be Italian like Mom used to make. In their warm, country-style kitchen, the two wore matching red-and-white checked aprons. The ingredients were laid out on the center island in an orderly fashion—at least on Alexs side. On Rachels side, the ingredients were laid out more creatively. Rachel read from the recipe. She added her own impromptu suggestions as they went along. Grandma stayed in the background, only coaching when she thought there was a threat of serious injury.

Beside the stove, Rachel had propped up pictures of her mother. I want Mom to be part of this, she said. In forty-five minutes the kitchen resembled a sort of expressionist painting. Colorful ingredients were splashed about on the counters and on the cooks. A daughters improv was meeting with a fathers deliberate approach. Somewhere in the middle, something marvelous was happening.

Just then, the doorbell rang. Alex wandered through the foyer to the front door. He opened it, and there he was—John J. Williams, the man theyd encountered when leaving the co-op!

 

16. Building on Success

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Promising to share the fifth and final practice of high-purpose–high-performance organizations, Quinn had picked Alex up for a ride in his restored 1968 black Chevy Corvette. After a cruise through the East End, making their way to the downtown freeway interchanges, Quinn and Alex were soon roaring up the wide-open interstate between Pittsburgh and Cleveland.

I actually talked to you about this next organization way back when I first met you. You are going to love it! By the way, Alex, I hear that you got John J. Williams an interview at Beckley. Good idea.

Alex noted the small curve of a smile on Quinns face as the Corvette accelerated with a deep rumble. You like driving this, dont you? Alex asked the obvious.

Oh yeah, Quinn responded, mimicking an American accent and response. I love the drive over to my client, the Cleveland Wellness Network—it gives me a chance to get out the Vette. He grinned. Its classic American muscle.

Driving is one of my favorite things to do. When I was growing up in Scotland, my dad was a traveling minister. He had a red MG-B convertible. I loved our time in the car, just the two of us being buddies. Mom said it was a questionable car for a preacher, but I think she really loved how much he enjoyed it. And on those drives my dad listened to me, really gave me all his attention. Maybe thats why I love to drive.

 

17. No Man Is an Island

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The next morning, Alex hobbled into the kitchen. Rachel and his mom were huddled around the kitchen bar with the TV news on quietly. Alex had a flashback to the morning of his accident, which seemed like ages ago.

Good morning to my two favorite girls, he said.

Rachel looked up. Oh, Dad, I have an idea for us.

Alex smiled. What is it?

I was riding home on the bus yesterday, talking with one of my friends. I told her how much we enjoyed cooking together and how we wanted to do even more. Well, shes the one who had the idea. She and her dad are involved right here in Pittsburgh in the Urban Kitchen Project. It sounds perfect for us.

Alex poured his tea and sat down next to Rachel and his mother. What is it?

The Urban Kitchen Project is about good, healthy food and cooking. Its right up our alley, Rachel said, smiling. It started with a community farm in a city neighborhood. The original idea was to help lower-income families get access to healthy foods. Did you know our city neighborhoods are a food desert? That means grocery stores are not in the neighborhoods—just fast food. But then my friends dad and some others noticed that even though these families could now get healthy food, they werent really using it. Like us, Dad, they needed to learn how to cook with good fresh food.

 

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