Goals are Key to Getting Things Done
by Al Schuele
Teams that are passionate about setting and achieving goals greatly improve their chances of success. Those who don't are likely to wind up as road kill. The executive team's role is to lead team members through the process of defining the important and realistic goals that, when achieved, will result in success as defined in the business planning and strategic planning documents. Each individual must accept his/her own accountability for achievement of these goals. Goal-focused management, along with individual accountability, fosters a culture of execution that is critical to any company's success. Crossing the goal line is all-important.
Progress is interesting but inconclusive and, by itself, often valueless.
First you must have a plan. The next step to becoming an execution-focused organization is for the team members to define realistic and achievable goals. These goals must be complete, clear and concise with enough detail that successful execution of the plan is assured if each individual goal is achieved perfectly. Everyone in the organization should understand that goals are not arbitrary, not optional. They must believe that every goal is individually critical to the survival and ultimate success of the company. Goals should be meaningful, specific and actionable by the individual who is accountable for their completion. If so, then they are easily measurable. The general rule of thumb is that if you find yourself grading your results in terms of "90 percent complete" then you were not specific enough in your goal description. Well-written goals can only be graded as either "complete" on "incomplete." Below are some examples of well written vs. poorly written goals:
• "Deliver an offer of employment to the VP Marketing candidate by 12/15/03," NOT "interview VP Marketing candidates."
• "Get all required signatures on the document by 1/15/04," NOT "Get team agreement on the document."
Setting and Communicating Goals
Goals are set through an interactive and iterative process lead by the CEO and individually determined by each member of the team. Goals aren't set until the entire team believes in their necessity and achievability. Every employee's goals must be shared with all other employees. Goals must be clearly understandable by all employees. Their individual importance to the end result must be easily recognizable. Unambiguous goals are critical to effective communication and to directing focused efforts. They will provide the basis for organization-wide progress reports.
The purpose of every goal should be clear. How does it contribute to the business plan, strategic plan and the long-term success of the company? How is every employee involved in achieving the goal? Most goals, if not achieved, will affect many other goals because of their interdependence. It is critical that this interdependence be clearly understood, documented and communicated. Any prediction of missed execution on a predicate goal must be immediately recognized as a threat to the descendant goal. Any threat to any future goal execution must be regarded as a critical threat to the company's overall success. Threats must be identified and reported. Corrective action plans need to be developed and implemented immediately. Employees should be commended for highlighting issues as soon as they are discovered. This is a key element of individual accountability.
The process of goal setting ensures timely execution of business plan by defining concrete schedules and milestones. I recommend goals with weekly milestones, not that there should be a goal for every individual for every week but that every goal should have a completion date specified to at most a one-week resolution. Monthly and quarterly goals are usually too vague.
Ownership, Accountability and Dealing with Missed Goals
Passion for execution is cultural. Accountability must be an integral part of that culture. Accountability means believing in one's responsibility for outcomes and requires a culture that values truth and candor over harmony. Accountability can be assigned but it is never affective until it is fully assumed by the responsible individual. Accountability means employees commit in an open forum to what they will do by when. Accountability is self-policing; as employees who believe in their own accountability will make certain that all others with interrelated goals are equally committed.
Management perpetuates accountability as an employee value only by demonstrating it themselves and rewarding employees who meet their commitments. Leaders must give honest feedback based on goals achievement. Dismissing a non-performing employee who continually misses defined goals is necessary step in maintaining team focus and always viewed favorably by the rest of a team that is goal oriented and believes in accountability.
Equally important to a strong culture is the belief that all individuals must rally to the aid of others who are falling behind. No fallen comrades are to be left behind when there is a mission to accomplish. Management is responsible to ensure that the resources, human as well as tools, are well matched to the objectives.
Measure progress, Celebrate achievement
Finishing is what matters. Managers get tricked into confusing effort or progress with accomplishment. Don't confuse reaching intermediate milestones with achieving goals. Successful companies build a foundation of high company morale by setting tough goals and then working hard to achieve them. They celebrate only when they hit their goals, 100 percent.
The Role of the CEO
The CEO must lead by example. CEOs are the key element in building and maintaining an execution-focused corporate culture. The CEO promotes accountability by holding himself/herself accountable to the company and the board of directors. CEOs make sure that goals and milestones are well defined, clearly communicated, understood and embraced by all employees. They also continuously review progress, make certain company resources support the objectives and ensure the goals are fully consistent with successfully achieving the business plan objectives.
Achieving the plan defines success. Goals are necessary to succeed in every business strategy. Defining them correctly, communicating them clearly and then rewarding their achievement builds confidence and morale in both individuals and organizations - a recipe that will build a successful and healthy company.