Over my years as a consultant, entrepreneur, and employee I have created a lot of goals. When I look back on them, they were all pretty much useless. They were useless because we spent a lot of time determining what the goals should be. We reviewed the goals quarterly and yearly. But where did that get us? The goals were
lagging indicators. If we did or did not achieve them, it was too late to change anything. This didn’t motivate my teams. What did motivate them was coming up with new ideas for the business. Implementing and tracking those ideas got people involved. When we focused on action we got things done.
There is a lot of literature on goals. Most of it talks about their benefits. What the articles don’t talk about is how goals affect employee involvement. In the complex random world of business, I haven’t seen this to be the case.
One problem with goal setting is its complexity. I was talking to a client the other day. They were saying they couldn’t predict sales next year because the price of oil was so low. Yet in the current low oil price climate, they had record sales. How could that be? This is a great question! It gets you thinking. Well, maybe construction is cheaper now. So more people are building or renovating and using more of our product. Or not.
Who knows! It’s too complex.
What Can We Control?
So what I have learned, and what I focus clients on, is what can we control?
Can you control the price of oil? No.
Can you control the economy? No.
Then what can you control? Our people, our costs, our purchasing etc.
In his article titled “Forget About Setting Goals. Focus on This Instead”, James Clear found successful companies focused on process, not goals. The successful companies were the ones actually doing stuff. These companies focus on process. They implemented little actions on a daily basis.
That has been my experience with goals. Even when you set them, they are too far in the future and people forget about them. What works? Picking a few key metrics, (KPI) and figuring out what affects them. The so-called “leading indicators”.
All right. But the question is. “How do I get our folks involved in this process?”
Let’s break this down into two areas of responsibility.
Senior Leaders Responsibility
First, it is a senior leader’s responsibility to decide on the strategic direction. Senior leaders need to have vision.
For example, are we going after heavy oil or light? Are we going after the luxury market or lower cost, high volume market? These decisions need a tremendous amount of data. This is difficult for front line folks lower down in the organization. They will have great ideas that relate to this. The problem is they won’t have all the information. Only senior leaders get information from their folks, economists, finance, marketing etc. So its the senior leader’s job to decide what high-level strategy to use. Which hill are we going to capture in this battle for market superiority?
Second, it’s the responsibility of everyone else to make the strategy work. Going back to our hill example above, the question is, “How are we going to take that hill?”
But why should front line folks care about taking the hill?
Ah Ha! They must know the strategy. They must know the reason for taking the hill. It makes sense if everyone in the company knows where they are going and why they are doing it. Involvement will occur if they understand. They will want to help.
So this is LESSON 1 – Communicate Strategy
Tell your people the strategy.
Tell your people the strategy every chance you get. At town hall meetings. One on ones. Random meetings at the coffee machine, in articles, blog posts, social media etc. When you are the leader, your most important role is to communicate the message.
Another way to make sure your message is getting through is to ask people. Don’t fall into the trap of always droning on and preaching about the strategy. Inform your folks and then let them start telling you what the strategy is. When they can express it in their own words you know you they have heard you.
A couple examples of this are asking someone to start a meeting off with what the strategy is. Or, at a town hall meeting, to do the same. Or, at a client meeting, to tell the client what your goals are. Think what the client will feel. They will see your entire front line engaged. Your client will see people that understanding how they are helping.
Lesson 2 – How does it affect the Customer?
How does it affect the customer? Why are we doing this? Everyone from the front line up must be able to answer this. Not knowing why the customer should buy from makes the strategy irrelevant. The strategy is your view of the world, not your clients. They don’t care about your strategy. They care about how you can help them with their opportunities.
Ways to get your folks involved in this are visits to client sites. Let your people see first hand the issues their client is facing. Then “partner’ with them to help solve it. I have been in plants where people have been making a product for clients for over 20 years. 20 years and they don’t know what the client uses it for. If employees don’t know, how can they come up with ideas to improve the product?
Lesson 3 – Interact with Customers
Get your folks out into the field and interacting with your clients. And vice versa. Invite your clients into your operation. Show them what you are doing. Get a conversation going. Ideas will flow.
Lesson 4 – Capture Ideas
Capture ideas in Action Item Lists (AIL). These simple lists record Who does what by when. Not only do they capture ideas, but they drive the implementation of these ideas.
Lesson 5 – Leading Indicators
Have your team pick and track 1 to 3 leading key performance indicators. It is important for your team to pick the leading metrics. Leading metrics help them understand the business. Understanding the business drives involvement.
Lesson 6 – Communicate Results
Communicate your leading metrics results. You can do this in one on one meetings. At town hall meetings and by posting charts up throughout the workplace.
Lesson 7 – Recognize
Recognize your team’s progress. But more importantly, let them know that they are improving. Just knowing we are improving makes us feel good. We want more of it. It’s what makes us want to come into work the next morning.
Lesson 8 – Quarterly Business Review
Hold a business review every quarter. At the business review leaders meet to review their Key Results Areas (KRA). They show how they are performing. They present actions they will implement next quarter to affect those results.
Do these things and you won’t need goals at all. You will find that incremental performance increases. Done on a daily basis, will get you better results than spending time on a goal. And the biggest benefit?