Lynn Schoener 
June 13th, 2013 
Lynn Schoener
As a
coach and consultant to organizations in transition, I work with leaders to develop coaching cultures and  improve employee satisfaction, team performance, and engagement.  My coaching work with individuals is designed to help them through...Read More

Seeing What Actually Matters, Through Martian Eyes


Back in the last millenia, when I was on an internal consulting team for an academic medical center, my colleagues and I helped departments craft mission statements. The mission statement craze was in full flower in the 1990's, and we were overwhelmed with requests to facilitate the process.


The goal was to craft the perfect paragraph, which would reflect a work group's highest aspirations, unique purpose, and signature approach to getting the job done. If everyone built the mission statement together, it was believed, they would work together in perfect alignment to achieve it.


It was a popular exercise, and too often, just an exercise. Mission statements that took employees months to brainstorm and wordsmith frequently rang hollow to me. They didn't feel doable, but more troubling, they didn't inspire anyone to try to achieve them. They had no soul.


One day, the consulting team experimented with an edgy approach to the process. We had the members of the department describe what a non-judgmental Martian would witness if s/he observed their choices, decisions, actions and interactions for a month. Lacking any context for human motivations or intentions, what mission would that Martian reasonably assume they were focused on fulfilling?


The results were honest...and hilarious! The employees candidly described their convoluted meetings, maddening bottlenecks, senseless unspoken rules, and ancient elephants in the room. The tongue-in-cheek mission statement that they devised next was a hoot, based on the actual facts rather than hifalutin' fantasy. Laughing at themselves made it safe to discuss the disconnect between what they wanted and what they were doing. Once they faced the truth of what actually mattered, based on their current behaviors, they were then ready to raise their own bar, create a mission statement that motivated them, and align their actions to achieve that standard. The statement wouldn't have won any poetry prizes, but it was fresh, it was real, and it was theirs.


This lighthearted approach has the potential to be seriously effective in one-on-one coaching. It's a less threatening, more playful way to have a coachee ponder provocative questions like these:


"What are you doing (or not doing) to keep things status quo?"


"How do your actions work against the change you seek?"


"What hidden commitment are you keeping that is in direct opposition to what you say you want?"


If these questions seem too confrontational, or too heady, try the extraterrestrial tack:


"If a Martian were to report back to the mothership about your habitual allocation of time and resources--what would they say? What would they assume about your mission in life, based not on what you say you want, but on what you actually do?"


I will share what my antennaed green visitor would witness and conclude about my real priorities in the next coachNote. What would your Martian say about yours?




Copyright 2013 by Lynn Schoener



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