A Common Language for a Common Mission

Language Word Signs Diverse Groups People CultureA common language is an essential ingredient for communication.  Consider the challenge people in any group face if they are trying to get ideas across without a shared reference point.

Let’s say there is a group assigned to providing support and aid to the victims of a natural disaster. This support will come from various agencies and require the coordination of human resources and material.

Without a common reference point and language, several elements of the relief effort could be inadequate—for example: determining the quantity of material, how the material will be delivered, personnel assignments, and logistics to support the movement of people to a necessary location. The success of this coordination is predicated upon the presence, understanding, and utilization of a common understanding.

The same is true within an agency.  A shared language works just as well to help people from different functions work together effectively. Consider the following factors as you put together a common language dictionary.  How many of these would you say have a shared understanding for your agency?

  1. Investments—A Common Vision. Agencies must set appropriate parameters and boundaries for what is in scope and how to define those elements. Where are we going as an agency?  How do our individual roles contribute to that mission?  Creating a common vision is the first place to begin.
  2. Execution—Fundamental Leadership. When an employee makes the transition from individual contributor to first time supervisor, skills need to be addressed such as how to address common challenges like conflict management, communication, delegation, and motivation. Have you created a well defined set of behaviors so that first time supervisors understand expectations?
  3. Empowerment—Defining Authority. Empowerment is central to the fulfillment of mission and employee engagement. But without a common definition of what empowerment entails, leaders will initiate empowerment in ways that can cause alignment and execution issues.  Have you identified how procedures are to be performed by specific parties and what the limits to authority are?  People perform best when the playing field is clearly marked.  What have you done to identify what is in bounds and what is out of bounds?
  4. Beliefs—Shared Values. The common leadership language should reflect agency values that drive and support necessary outcomes. Further, leadership has the responsibility to periodically reinforce these shared values and remind the organization that converting values from common sense to common practice will deliver sound public service. Have you clearly defined agency values in a way that leaders can use to reinforce values and ensure adherence?
  5. Integration—Working Collaboratively. A final goal of a common leadership language is the elimination of silos that prevent two-way communication, feedback, and the sharing of resources. Have you identified and shared best practices on how to connect and leverage ideas and resources and provide continuous improvement feedback?

Speaking a Common Language

A common language provides an agency with a chance for incremental improvements in engagement and retention while it maintains the ability to deliver against mission. A common leadership language will improve the pace at which new leaders will learn and appropriately apply desired leadership practices. Mentoring and feedback across the agency will be aided because all leaders will have a common understanding and vision, allowing for more objective, timely, and accurate improvement of leadership capacity.

If your agency has not established a common leadership language, consider what steps you can take to reap the benefits of a common framework.

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