“What happened?” Susan President asked, obviously upset at the team’s lack of performance. Just 90 days prior, her leadership team had devised a plan that included the key areas of focus needed to drive the company’s performance for the year ahead. They had picked 10 quarterly goals they felt would lead to successful performance.
Now, reviewing their performance at the end of the quarter, they discovered just two of the ten goals had been completed. Not surprisingly, the company had also missed its revenue and profit goals. The room was quiet. No one answered Susan’s question, afraid to be the first to talk. Without pause, Susan said in a very matter of fact tone, “Well, we had better figure it out because this can’t happen again.”
One classic mistake entrepreneurs and their high-performing teams make is taking on too much. After all, if you focus on everything, you focus on nothing. Efforts are diluted. People are stretched thin. Things fall through the cracks. Rather than identifying the 20% of goals that’ll drive 80% of the right outcomes, the team chose too many. As a result, performance suffered. Had they identified the top 3 to 7 goals for the quarter (we recommend closer to 3 than 7) and channeled the organization’s energy behind those goals, chances are very good that the outcomes would have been much better.
Gaining Commitment – Owning the Outcome
Another classic mistake found in entrepreneurial organizations is the idea that priorities and goals should all come from the top down. Many entrepreneurs are successful because of their ideas and energy which can be a powerful resource as long as both can be harnessed, filtered and aligned with the organization and its people.
In this case, Susan added a number of her own ideas to the mix, on top of the core goals the team identified, believing they would help accelerate their performance. Rather than objecting, the team quietly complied.
Therein lay another part of the problem. Not only did this result in too many goals but no one truly owned these additional goals. Even though people were assigned to them, there was never a discussion or a decision made beyond the idea being presented and the assignment of responsibility. In the minds of leadership team members, they were Susan’s goals, not theirs. Without discussion, including the occasional disagreement, there can be no real commitment.
Clarity & Accountability – When do we throw the party?
As Susan looked over the 10 goals for the quarter, one common thread running through was a lack of clarity. Only a few had defined measurable outcomes and just a couple had successfully identified key milestones needed to achieve the desired results.
When thinking about a goal, ask yourself when you’d “throw the party”. Define success by creating SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Time-bound. For example, rather than “Improve Marketing”, you could define success as “Increase Social Media Followers by 20%”. A specific measurable leaves less room for uncertainty and doubt as to whether or not the goal has been achieved.
The team also ran into issues when two people were co-owners of the goal rather than making one person ultimately accountable for execution. This doesn’t mean others don’t help. It simply means just one person leads the effort of resources assigned and owns the results.
Trust but Verify – A Regular Cadence of Accountability
“Trust but verify”. This old Russian saying was made popular by modern American President, Ronald Reagan. Reagan believed in setting clear goals and expectations. He gave ownership of those goals to his team to lead and manage but followed by setting a regular interval of measurement to ensure they were being executed effectively and in a timely manner.
In addition to having SMART goals, a team is better set up to execute and achieve success when there is a regular review of progress against those goals. Any issues or roadblocks that arise can be addressed in a timely fashion. A weekly or bi-weekly cadence allows the team to review progress and provide one another with “a cup of help or a cup of accountability” to ensure things are moving forward towards success on the appropriate timeline.
Moving Your Company Forward
Susan’s story is one of countless business owners and leaders we’ve worked with through the years. What was successful for the entrepreneur who founded the organization by him or herself, no longer works as the company matures and grows. No longer can (or should) Susan put the company on her back and drive performance alone. This has to change to allow the company to scale effectively and grow profitably.
By improving in the key areas mentioned above, Susan’s team could dramatically improve execution and performance in a number of ways. They could:
- Identify and focus on a smaller number of the most critical goals that will drive performance
- Speak up and challenge “piling on” additional goals beyond a core few, rather than silently complying with Susan’s suggestions. The result is greater alignment and ownership of the company’s priorities.
- Work to make the goals SMART, with a clear owner of each goal driving the right outcome for the organization
- Regularly revisit key goals to clearly identify whether or not they’re moving forward towards a timely completion