Too often, leadership goes off-site, discusses their goals for the year, and comes down the mountain with stone tablets engraved with annual strategy. At least that’s how it looks to staff. Either way, the best strategy in the world is no use if it's never put into action. We spend copious amounts of time nailing down the strategy piece, and not nearly enough on execution. We come up with an idea that sounds great, put together a catchy tagline or mantra for teams to repeat, and if we’re feeling super fancy, have marketing draw up some supporting graphics.
Et voilà! Mission accomplished. End of post.
Just kidding.Unfortunately, this is just the beginning. If you don’t bridge the gap to action and give teams a way to turn your lofty goals and vision into tangible, new behaviors that are consistently practiced, you will fail. You will look back on the year and wonder why your organization didn’t make as much (or any) substantial progress toward the beautiful vision you’ve worked so hard to define. Don’t let your vision be relegated to beautiful words painted on a wall (seen that), a card in every employee’s wallet (seen that, too), or a lifeless mantra (Yep, I’ve seen staff able to recite a mantra with their annual goals without having any idea whatsoever how to achieve them.). Here are some ideas to break you out of that vicious cycle.
1. Define an Inspiring SMART Goal
First, frame your goal in terms of how you want to improve. We want to go from A (current state) to B (future state) by some deadline (let’s say December 31st of this year). We call them WIGs, Wildly Important Goals (more on that later). It takes the idea of creating SMART goals and gives you something your teams can rally around. For those of you that don’t know what I mean by SMART, when setting goals, it’s best that they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time Bound. Make sure that any strategy you set for your organization can be communicated simply and SMART-ly.
Pro tip: Don’t make your strategic goals entirely financial in nature. I’ve learned from experience these kinds of goals are pretty uninspiring. Find something that goes a bit further to inspire or drive action. Getting rid of a frustration point, pushing teams to innovate or create something new, or giving staff a formidable opponent to compete against often works much better than a purely financial goal.
Second pro tip: Don’t define more than three major goals in a year. If you can get it down to one, even better. The more goals we focus on at one time, the more diluted our efforts will become and the less likely we'll be to get any of them done. Avoid the temptation to do too much. I learned this first hand as part of a strategic planning exercise where our leadership team defined 10 major initiatives that “had to get done” that year. When we looked back at the end of a very busy year, we were disappointed to find that we hadn’t fully completed any of them. Save yourself the inevitable pain and suffering by defining three or fewer goals for the year.
2. Help Your Teams Define Their Own SMART Goals
When you have a SMART organizational goal defined, have your teams to break it into smaller goals for their own teams. If you define the “what” of the big, lofty goal, allow your teams the autonomy to come up with the creative “how” of achieving it. You will be surprised by what they come up with. Plus, when they design their own goals, they are more likely to achieve them, as they are now invested in their own success - it’s now become their team goal or mantra.
3. Change Behavior by Looking Forward
If you’re going to succeed in turning strategy into action, you have to re-train your brain on how to view metrics. Without realizing it, most organizations look backwards. For example, we examine spend or sales over the previous month. The problem with this kind of metric is that it reports what has already happened rather than what needs to happen. It’s like saying, “I need to lose weight, so I’ll weigh myself every day”. That only tells you what you weigh now (and will likely make you sad). What you need to do instead is say, “What new behaviors am I going to START doing?” Maybe it’s running a few times a week. Maybe it’s giving up that daily milkshake-that-masquerades-as-a-coffee-drink (never!). Regardless, we have to focus on what we can change, not what has happened.
4. Hold Folks Accountable Every Week
After you've pushed yourself and your teams to think differently about metrics and define which new things they'll be doing, be sure to hold them accountable each week. Don’t waste your time defining new behaviors if you’re not going to take the time to hold folks accountable in achieving their goals. You won’t form new habits unless there’s consistency, and the best way to do that is through measurement. No matter what urgent matters arise during the week, teams should regularly report how they’ve contributed to their goals that week.
It Really Works: Our Own Story
Here’s an example from our own company. We are a partner with Cherwell Software (a fantastic IT automation platform. If you’re unfamiliar, you should check it out). A few years ago, we defined a simple goal for our company – Become the #1 Cherwell partner in the world. When we asked our team to come up with ways to achieve this goal, we heard some great ideas. One of them was, “What if we created short, 2-3 minute videos explaining one cool thing you could do in the system and put it up on YouTube?” It was something each person could spend about an hour each week creating.
At the end of each week, everyone reported whether they completed their video. Fast-forward two years, we now have more than 300 free videos available online (check out our YouTube channel here) and are seen as the preeminent Cherwell partner in the world. It all started with a small idea that everyone agreed to regularly commit just a little bit of time each week to chip away at, and we ended up achieving a really big goal that we’re crazy proud of.