What is expected of a manager, beside his personal managerial skills is that he provide us with a direction, a vision : we call that Ambition.
Although we do not have specific statistics, we can consider that in most cases these expectations are not met because that Ambition is non-existent or because it is ill-chosen.
Before blasting away at our incompetent bosses, one has to admit that though it looks easy at first, this exercise is far from easy.
What is Ambition for ?
Ambition can be defined as an ideal to be reached, like an azimuth for all the actions carried out by the company’s collaborators. It then needs to be declinable in economic, technical, organisational and human challenges.
A good example of that is Steve Jobs’s famous “Think Different” a slogan that was launched in 1997 in Apple ads and which became the drive of APPLE’s Ambition
When defined as such, it seems almost superfluous to wonder what it is for .Let’s list the three main advantages of an Ambition when it is well chosen.
- mobilizing: Ambition is a drive for action, it yields desire, adhesion, and must be difficult enough to achieve to get the company’s actors to surpass themselves. A good example of that is Steve Jobs’s famous “Think Different” a slogan that was launched in 1997 in Apple ads and which became the drive of APPLE’s Ambition, calling on all the company teams to find new ideas and concepts with the success that we know.
- connecting : Ambition is also the spur for all of the organizational work areas. It needs to be the coherence of chosen priorities, the Arbitrator, the guide in choosing business objectives.
- Valuing: Ambition gives value to daily actions by adding depth to basic tasks. If a given task is not always inspiring, collaborators know that they are pitching in a wider, nobler project. For example , DHL has the ambition to always bring people closer .Largely inspired by the aerospace epic, that Ambition seems far removed from such daily tasks as sorting , conducting, storing. Yet, they have managed to confer a sacred value to these tasks and to mailing –whatever their content.
When Ambition flops
From our consulting experience in industry, distribution, transport, cospeto-pharma, etc..we have seen examples of successful Ambitions that had what it takes to boost team energy. Unfortunately, there are far more examples of companies that are not able to find their graal or their collective object of value.
Of course, for a board committee, a turnover objective can be stimulating enough but for an operator that will just mean extra work load and pressure, nothing motivating there.
The first reason to account for this is that selected ambitions are often too “classic”. Based on all-purpose words such as “leader”, “reference” or promising a “sustainable and profitable “growth, they are interchangeable and thus become almost invisible. Posted nearly everywhere at the cafeteria, the meeting rooms, they become passive elements of décor. A piece of advice : if your Ambition could be any other company’s Ambition then get rid of it !
Another classic error is the confusion between Ambition and objective. Too many leaders draw their Ambitions from their dashboards. Whether they are “raw targets such as “let’s double our turnover in 5 years” or more stylish such as “let’s conquer 1% of the market per year by 2020”, an objective is an objective and has no other point than to set the requirement for an expected result.Of course, for a board committee, a turnover objective can be stimulating enough but for an operator that will just mean extra work load and pressure, nothing motivating there.
Those are very gross errors at first sight, however they still account for more than half the Ambitions observed in companies with the result that they deprive themselves of what drives motivation among their teams. And yet, defining and sharing an Ambition can, in itself, be a formidable dynamic.
Let’s think out of the box !
Scholars often advise the same thing : an ambition must be positive, simple, demanding, realistic, time-based, among other virtues :
Given that those wise pieces of advice often lead to Ambitions such as “become a leader” and other clichés, we believe that using such plain adjectives to define a company’s Ambition is overly simplistic. To strike minds, we also think that an Ambition must be disputable and unattainable.
Thus, Apple’s employees will never fail to “think different”, those of DHL will never fail to “bring men ever closer”, and those of “Nature & Découvertes”, the French chain of Nature Gift Stores, to make their clients environmentally aware”.
- Disputable, because an ambition that one can only agree with, is so blatant and obvious that it will never bring extra energy; it is like kicking down an open door. What is the added value of setting ambitions such as “becoming a better performing company for its company and safer for its employees”? That doesn’t tell us anything about the company’s priorities. An ambition must make a statement, i.e. This U system, makes it possible to “consume better and less” rather than “more for less”. This is how it gives meaning and a clear direction to teams and how it will get a reaction including by those who don’t agree, leading to fruitful exchanges.
- Unattainable, because unlike an objective, what counts here is not achievement, in a purely rational logic but the path leading to it. Thus, Apple’s employees will never fail to “think different”, those of DHL will never fail to “bring men ever closer”, and those of “Nature & Découvertes”, the French chain of Nature Gift Stores, to make their clients environmentally aware”.
That is how Ambition can stay the company’s course in the long run, in situations of crisis as in situations of growth, in organisation X or Y , for the collective or for each individual whatever his role, his seniority or his skills.