A four-year old grabs a red crayon. “Colour the picture and have fun!” the daycare teacher instructs the group. The child dives in with enthusiasm, pushing the crayon quickly across the page. “Try to stay within the lines,” the teacher offers as helpful feedback. The child examines the page and decides to start again, this time working slowly and meticulously, focused on keeping the crayon within the lines. Another teacher comes into the room and tells the children, “Don’t worry too much about the lines, let your creativity soar!” Confused about the boundaries and expectations, the child feels frustrated and demotivated.
Confusion around boundaries and expectations doesn’t end when we’re young. Variants of this situation happen daily with staff across organizations from all sectors and it leads to demotivation, under-performance, and poor results.
How clear are the boundaries in your organization? Do people understand where the lines are and if they are expected to colour inside or outside them? Is everyone on the same page?
Your organization’s strategy is the starting point for defining clear boundaries that delineate how you want people within the organization to operate.
Create Boundaries with Values
When we define our values, we decide how we do and do not want to operate. We can then articulate our expectations to staff, customers, and partners. We can choose to define our company’s ethics, thus drawing a clear line about how we will conduct our business. We can explain our expectations around “staying within the lines.” Perhaps your organization wants to encourage colouring outside the lines in some areas and that can be articulated with values such as taking risks, celebrating uniqueness, or fostering authenticity.
Use Strategic Objectives to Set Boundaries
Specific and measurable strategic objectives outline what the organization is striving to achieve. When creating objectives, consider the boundaries that need to be clearly articulated and understood by all to achieve success. Would you rather: “Create five new products by 2026” or “Create five new high-quality products that have a customer satisfaction rating of 97% by 2026”? A well-thought out, specific, and measurable objective generates results in the way you want them achieved.
Communicate the Boundaries
Your staff will become demotivated if they receive unclear and mixed messages. Provide clear communication about your strategy and ensure that everyone is on the same page. Keep in mind that effective communication means the receiver understands the message as the sender intended; therefore, ask people about their perception of the boundaries to ensure they have the correct interpretation.
Boundaries can help people feel motivated and increase productivity by clarifying expected behaviour. Is it time to review your strategy?