Making Work Winnable

by | Jul 1, 2023 | Organizational Health

Work’s not a game but think about this – when you sit down to a game, you have a set of guidelines that defines the game’s universe. You know your objective. You know the rules of engagement. You know how to maneuver within the game.  

Today’s work world is nothing like that. It’s constantly evolving in ways we might never expect.  

So, how do we make work winnable when goals shift, directives change, and our work priorities are constantly shifting under our feet?  

Situations Where We Have Trouble Winning  

I recently worked with a client who leads a team at a global company. The company kicked off a sustainability initiative and was urging team members to cut back on company travel. At the same time, my client’s team was getting pressure from above to get out there and visit their clients.  

It was a no-win situation because no one had clarity.  

The problem here is that the big messages – the rules of the game – don’t get passed down when they’re changed. That leaves people playing two different games or playing without a full deck.  

If you don’t have the full rules and the reason why, why would you even want to keep playing?  

You’ve been in this situation before. You have a leader who doesn’t fully communicate. You get requests for random tasks, reports, and data but don’t get a “why” along with it. Instead of working on items previously ranked as strategic priorities, you are pulled back and forth between tasks because of “stop and drop leadership.”  

If you’re the guilty leader in this situation, you can’t win if you are not regularly explaining how – in a sense – the game is changing.  

The first step toward this concept of making work winnable is making sure everyone is playing the same game. Team members and leaders must have the same rule book to move toward the same objective.  

When you think about it, this congruence rarely happens in business. In some organizations, you may hear the frequent refrain of “we’ve always done it this way.” They’ve been dropped into a new version of the game without upgrading their rule book.  

To win, you have to be able to make those shifts as an individual. And, you have to guide people through those shifts as a leader.  

Winning Work on an Individual Level  

To make work winnable, figure out where your energy’s going, then shift it to where it needs to go instead.  

As an example, sometimes a hard-working team member will stretch too thin because they’re managing one set of priorities for their leadership team and other conflicting priorities for a leader on a cross-functional team.  

They haven’t been given the rules for handling this situation. They’re not getting the feedback and clarity they need from either side. And their energy is drained because they’re darting back and forth, trying to manage everything and let nothing slip.  

Winning in this situation requires candor and bravery. It requires managing up and getting clarity from the people whose expectations are impacting your ability to succeed. Get those leaders together and:  

  • Explain the conflicts you’re facing  
  • Express how you believe you should allocate your time 
  • Ensure both sides are in alignment or can come to an agreement  

When you self-advocate, you close the loop of uncertainty that inhibits focus and perpetually drains your energy. You are also educating your leaders to be better leaders.  

Winning Work as a Leader  

Your toolset for winning work as a leader includes:  

  • Trust-building 
  • Transparency 
  • Alignment 
  • Focused commitment  

Trust is foundational precisely because modern work shifts so quickly. When your team is hit with a change, you need to explain why, outline new priorities, and secure people’s immediate buy-in.  

Many leaders try to buffer information for their team. They provide only pieces of the information they have, either to try to protect them or to hoard information. When you buffer, though, you’re showing a lack of trust in their ability to be all-in.  

Instead, try being as transparent as you can.  

  • Tell your people, “This is what’s coming down.” Give them the big picture, and if there’s information you truly can’t share, be honest about that as well.  
  • Acknowledge the impact made by this new information (additional work, re-work, etc.) and let them know what that change means for them.  
  • Connect the change back to the big picture goals of the team or organization 
  • Re-state team priorities and tell your team, “This is how the game has changed. These are the new rules we’re playing by, and this is our new objective.” 

When you give them your trust and respect by sharing information, you show them that they play a vital role. They’re not just task-doers or list-checkers. They’re people who are part of something bigger, people who can rise to the occasion to support their colleagues and organization.  

Making work winnable is about everyone putting their tremendously powerful energy toward the same end goal. It’s not about numbers, although this winning mentality does often lead to higher performance numbers. If you try to make it a numbers game by micromanaging constant reporting and data-pulling, what are you sacrificing? You’re pulling your team’s time and energy to satisfy your lack of trust or need for control, instead of doing your job of setting priorities, removing obstacles, and ensuring they have the capacity to do good work.  

Winning Isn’t a Short-Term Activity. It’s a Long-Term Goal.  

When you truly win at work, you win in life too. Gaining clarity around work responsibilities translates into less energy spent on uncertainty and anxiety, and more energy going toward things that really matter in your personal and professional lives.  

Energy-inspired leaders understand that there’s a direct connection between the energy of their people and the way they’re able to perform and thrive. They move their people from reactive uncertainty to being more focused, more plan-oriented, more capable of shifting when rules change, and more prepared to win.  

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