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Achievement of Goals - 6 December 2011

David Olds is a renowned medical researcher who conducted a famous study in one of the poorest towns in the United States, a town characterised by high unemployment, poverty, premature births, infant mortality, and child abuse.

He selected 400 families to participate. He believed that if mothers received regular visits by nurses during their pregnancy and during the first two years of their baby’s life, they’d become better mothers. And this, he theorised, would give the children a better future. He organised for qualified nurses to visit 200 of those families every week, while the rest didn’t receive any visits.  He then tracked the kids’ progress for the next two decades.

 

 

The nurses provided advice, education, and emotional support – in other words, they removed the ambiguity that exists when women become mothers for the first time. Among the many benefits that were accomplished, one of the most profound was that nurse-visited kids ended up having 69 percent fewer criminal convictions. By removing much of the ambiguity, the mothers were equipped to pursue the goal of brilliant motherhood.

Motherhood and leadership have a lot in common. In both cases, there’s an inherent responsibility over the welfare of others. In both cases, there’s the need to deal with people who sometimes act like children. And in both cases, there’s a unique opportunity to influence human beings in a positive way.

But there’s also another similarity. In both cases, the achievement of goals is hindered by the presence of ambiguity – a presence that creates uncertainty, indecisiveness, and a lack of focus, all of which makes it difficult for goals to be achieved.

Professors at Harvard have developed twelve sources of ambiguity at work. If you’ve got employees struggling to achieve goals, check for the presence of these sources, which I’ve summarised below into four sections. One or more of these is bound to be present, and while that’s the case, the achievement of goals will be more laborious than it needs to be.

Ambiguity with Situations

  • Problems to be solved are too vague and inexplicit
  • Data is unreliable and insufficient
  • Information is interpreted in conflicting ways

Ambiguity with Boundaries

  • Goals are unspecified, too numerous, or contradictory
  • Measures and methods for success are undefined
  • Shortages exist in terms of time, money and attention

Ambiguity with Relationships

  • Politics within the team results in a clash of values
  • Points of view aren’t expressed logically by stakeholders
  • Behaviour is inconsistent among team members

Ambiguity with Processes

  • Roles and responsibilities are unclear
  • Key decision-makers change too frequently
  • Cause-and-effect is poorly understood

Your aim should be to identify which of those sources are the most prominent within your team. Then, make the situation clearer, or make the boundaries more defined, or work on strengthening your employees' relationships, or iron out your processes.

Ambiguity tends to be present whenever anyone struggles to achieve a goal. And sometimes what’s required isn’t a manager, but a nurse.

 

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