Many years ago, I got a phone call inviting me to northern Minnesota in mid-September to lead an in-depth senior management retreat on the subject of mission, vision and core values. The CEO had booked an entire lodge by a secluded lake for the day and had flown up a top notch chef from the Twin Cities to cater the meal.
The food was amazing. The setting was spectacular. The fall colors were at their peak, and the strategic level dialogue around mission, vision and values was very poor. It is no fun facilitating a group process when clearly something else needed to be discussed. After multiple attempts to get the discussion to a deeper level than superficial conversation, I invited the group to go with me for a walk around the nearby lake.
Once out in nature, people seemed to relax a bit and open up. Therefore, I turned to one of the vice presidents and said, “What am I missing here? This is an important topic but no one wants to participate.”
We walked for a bit and then he replied, “The setting is perfect. The food is over the top, and the subject is important. You are even doing a good job. However, we recently failed an inspection at one of our facilities, and the plan of correction is due to be submitted tomorrow morning at 9:00 am. Most of us were planning on having this day to review the entire plan of correction, coordinate our efforts, and make sure that this does not happen again. But the CEO thought it would be best if we talked about mission, vision and core values instead. Therefore, most of us after this retreat will be burning the midnight oil to make sure everything is in place related to the plan of correction. The retreat is a good idea. It’s just at the wrong time.”
As I continued walking around the lake, I reflected on how many times I have witnessed this take place. At times, it feels like an epidemic of missed opportunities. What should have taken place and what did take place were not in alignment. Talking about mission, vision and core values is very important, but holding this conversation at the right time is also important.
Our challenge as leaders is to pay very close attention to our direct reports and to know where each of them are in their journey with the organization. Great managers build on strengths, and great leaders build on clarity. This week I strongly encourage you to reconnect with each of your direct reports and to better understand what they are working on and what are their priorities. As I learned many years ago while walking around a lake, timing is mission critical to success.