Make your SMART goals STRONG

First, have a definite, clear practical ideal; a goal, an objective. Second, have the necessary means to achieve your ends; wisdom, money, materials, and methods. Third, adjust all your means to that end.   Aristotle

Many of us, when setting goals, have been exposed to the popular SMART acronym as a guide for our goal-setting. In the standard approach, goals are defined as “good” if they are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Bound.

The more I work with leaders, or teams establishing strategic or tactical plans, the more I believe that while these elements of a goal are ok, they may not cover everything. For example, while a goal may be specific, it is not uncommon for it to still be difficult to understand.  We can write a “specific” goal that still has too many elements, or is couched in a language that is hard for our team to grasp.  Relevant is a wonderful characteristic as well, but is a broad concept to work with. The question may still linger, “relevant in what way?”

I fully recognize that suggesting a different acronym to follow is just this side of heresy, but I’m going to give it a go anyway. If SMART goals are working for you, then please keep using them. But perhaps you want to consider not just making your goals smart, but instead making them STRONG.

Simple: For a goal to be useful, it has to be understandable. By “simple” I don’t mean it has to be elementary, but it needs to be focused on a single activity and outcome and phrased in a way that is clear to those who see it. Goals that have multiple parts are hard to understand and are difficult to deliver since the employee is unsure of what part of the goal is most important. Goals that are loaded with jargon, or specialized language, are difficult to access. A simple goal for one person may be an overly complicated goal for another person so this is a relative term based on the individual and the task at hand.

Timely: For a goal to be useful it also has to be relevant to the situation at the moment. Each goal should have an importance that is immediate. If you truly want me to make this goal a priority, I have to see how it plays a role in our success right now. This doesn’t mean that all goals are short-term goals, but they need to have a connection to the current moment. If the goal is set for 24 months from now, I need to understand why it is identified as a goal today

Realistic:  For a goal to have its desired effect on performance, it has to be seen by the recipient of the goal as somehow possible to achieve. Unrealistic goals create demoralized troops. This is a point of negotiation. If you see the goal as realistic and your follower does not, you need to take the time to explain your thinking in a way that they can see the same reality you do. This does not mean the goal has to be easy…just possible. Our goals should stretch us and push us to achieve more than we think possible at times. But if I don’t see any reality between the current situation and the one you want with the goal, I will likely not engage.

Objective:  For goals to be strong, they must be viewed as unbiased and objectively measurable. One of the definitions of “objective” is “having a real existence.” If you want me to attempt to achieve a goal, it has to be termed in a way that it is real. “Making people happy” is not an objective goal. “Improving customer satisfaction” is if I can define what it looks like. If I can define what the goal looks like when achieved, then I have (or can have) a measure attached to the goal.

For some people, this specific element just sounds like another way of saying “measurable” in the standard SMART approach. While an objective goal IS measurable, and should have measures associated with it, I would argue that the focus here is on the concrete nature of the goal, not the measure itself. Telling me that a goal is to achieve a 5% increase in profitability doesn’t tell me anything about the action, it only tells me the expected outcome. The measure may technically BE a goal, but it doesn’t have any essence until that is turned into additional goals that get me there

Necessary: Useless goals are the bane of high-performance. For a follower to be motivated to achieve a goal he or she has to see the value of the goal being pursued. Goals need to be provided in a context of understanding so that employees understand not only the specifics of the goal, but also the goal’s importance in the bigger picture. The necessity of the goal can be a strong performance driver, especially for employees who are personally committed to the overall success of the department or organization.

Grand: Goals need to be aspirational. They need to represent performance that requires ingenuity and persistence. They need to be challenging. Remember that I suggested they are realistic, which means they are not SO grand that they are unattainable. But realistic does not mean that it’s a piece-of-cake…it just means that it is doable. Grand goals are goals that stretch us to grow in ways that mediocre goals do not. Grand goals can be exciting, if they are agreed upon by both the leader and the follower.

Whether SMART or STRONG or some combination of the two, goals that are imposed on people tend to be less successful than those that are established with people. A goal-setting session should be a dialogue…the actual establishment of the goal should be the outcome of the dialogue. “Gifting” your employees with their goals creates confusion about what you mean and what the priorities are. But a goal-setting session where each individual has the opportunity to share in the crafting of the objective can be inspirational in itself.

 

Effective Leadership Presentations

One of the key success factors for leaders at all levels is the ability to communicate to others. We spend a lot of time in this blog talking about interpersonal elements of communication and leadership, but the fact remains that it is the rare leader that can avoid making some kind of group presentation. In fact, by definition, leaders have to communicate to groups of people at a time. There has been a lot of study and writing on the act of oral presentation so it would seem that there’s probably not much more we need to learn, eh? As leaders we know we need to “Tell ’em what we’re going to tell ’em, tell ’em and then tell ’em what we told ’em.” At least that’s the conventional wisdom. The problem of course is that being redundant is not only sometimes very boring it is also not a guarantee that our message will have any impact at all.

I generally have an immediate suspicion of conventional wisdom anyway. Typically it became conventional wisdom over a long period of time and is so general as to be not of much use. At the very least, conventional wisdom tends to be…well…conventional. In other words, average is not what we’re after here so perhaps we need to try a little harder. Recent evidence in brain research of participants listening to speakers gives us some ideas as to how we might make presentations to our followers more powerful. Here are three ideas for example that are not likely to be intuitive or in your basic speech workshop:

1. Focus on multiple processing: Very often leaders approach communication to groups of people as information dumps. A few charts, a bunch of numbers, and that’s about it. Then they wonder why nobody seems to remember what they said. Research however indicates that the more diversity in the presentation, not just with information but with our senses, the more likely we are to retain the information. Most speakers stick to audio and visual, but are there some ways you can bring your message alive by activity within the group. Can you pass out an object or have them engage in an activity to illustrate your point. The more ways they have to experience the information the more likely they are to retain it.

2. Be “level” with the audience: Of course we have been trained to do this through a story or joke or whatever else we throw into the introduction of the speech, but connecting with the audience is really about being a credible and trustworthy source. Be real and authentic. Avoid acting out the power position. For example, if these are employees within your company or department do you really need a formal introduction? Do your assistants really need to be visible to everybody all of the time? Come down the hierarchy for a while and really speak with your folks.

3. Tie into existing knowledge: While every presentation should have a unique component (otherwise, why are you doing it?) participants can make meaning of your discussion more easily if it is related to stuff they already know. Whether it is a continuation of an earlier presentation, connected to current events, or even product related, it is helpful to overtly tie your new information to previously understood content. The more you can help the audience make the connection, the less cognitive effort it takes for them to figure it out on their own. One thing stands out above all others when it comes to making presentations with impact. If you are not considering your audience in the process of creating your speech, you will not be as effective as you could be.

Speaking is all about the audience. If you have others who are creating your speech, make sure that they are doing it from the perspective of the receiver. No matter how powerful a leader you are, if you stand there and tell us what you think is important, without considering what is important to us and how we can best understand the information, your presentations will fall short every time.

Strategy versus Structure

There has long been a debate when looking at the effective organizational approach to change.  The question is this. For effective change to take place, does one first change the organizational structure and systems and then adapt a strategy (and human strategy as well) to fit the new structure and system, or does one start with the strategy and mindset changes and then adapt the systems and structure to fit it?

This is one of those interesting leadership questions because, if you have an answer, you probably believe it is the only logical answer to have. Of course my answer is one of those amazingly frustrating answers for many people. I believe it depends on the change being instituted and the context of the specific leadership and organizational challenge.

In my opinion, it is possible for a full scale and successful change initiative to be instigated by the recognition that current systems, hierarchies and processes are either producing less than desirable results or, more likely, are not creating results quickly enough. This is a carry over from the industrial age that we haven’t quite settled yet. Systems that create efficiency and run at the lowest cost are not necessarily the same systems that create the greatest speed or quality. As I’ve written here before, the obsession with cost reduction has created many organizations that now find themselves able to do things inexpensively, but without innovation or speed to market.

On the other hand, organizations that have flat structures, few complex processes and an innovative mindset are not immune to dealing with change. Many of these innovative companies (Google, 3M, Apple) have come to recognize that their cowboy mindset worked well in good times, but did not prepare them for the more team-oriented approach that may be necessary today. Yes, these companies have had teams forever, but the kind of collaboration that is necessary now is so entirely cross functional and focused that few organizations are accustomed to it. These aren’t organizational design issues…these are internal issues. In these cases, the mindset has to change first, and the design will follow.

I believe what is most important is the manner in which the change process is approached. First of all, we should quit acting as if the “change process” is a unique and perhaps frequent stand alone event. In the current environment, change is not separate from leadership…it IS leadership. Second, for either design driven or internal driven change to work, stakeholders have to be enlisted early in the game. We have become a complex environment and diverse perspectives will provide the framework for understanding what and how change will enable the new corporate.

Finally, we have to get away from believing that there is one way to either make change happen or even to describe the phenomenon that occurs during change within an organization. We have become comfortable with approaches and theories that date back to a much more stable and industrial age. For change to work, leaders have to have open minds and hearts and be willing to understand that they don’t understand.

 

CEOs Plan for 2014

It’s an interesting phenomenon that every year the media tells us that American business is suffering.

CEO ResolutionsThey tell us that our leadership is lacking and that the coming year will be worse than the one before for our business leaders and managers.  Yet my experience has been that most leaders see every year as simply a new challenge to be met that may shape their actions to some degree but will not throw them off course.

For the past five years I have validated this experience through conducting a series of interviews with CEOs from companies large and small, public and private, profit and non-profit.  These interviews have created an annual CEO New Years Resolutions report that I publish along with Northwood University and the DeVos Graduate School of Management.

Every year I have found that CEOs are realistic but excited about the possibilities of the future.

In fact, most of them will say that they don’t actually construct “New Year’s Resolutions” per se because they are constantly looking at what’s coming and making commitments for the future. And these aren’t small commitments.

Patrick Doyle, CEO of Dominos told me he is devoted to maintaining momentum. “Most importantly, I will be vigilant that we don’t become complacent with our progress and continue to build a team that is excited to drive change.” This is no small task as Dominos now sits as the second largest U.S. pizza chain and the largest in the world with over 10,000 stores in over 70 countries. He not holding back in 2014…he’s going for it bigger and better than before.

Other interviewees in this year’s report include Melanie Bergeron, CEO of the largest independent moving company in the country, Two Men and a Truck. She wants to encourage other leaders to focus on job creation. Mike Ferretti, CEO of Great Harvest Bread Company wants to create clear communication within his organization by eliminating meaningless buzz words from communication with his leadership team and employees.  Jerry Yeager of SYM Financial Advisors thinks it’s time to payback his employees for their hard work by providing for their retirement planning with the same services they provide for their high-level clients.

If you have a few minutes you should really read the report that you can find here:
http://www.northwood.edu/documents/publications/CEO-Resolutions-2014.pdf

Whenever you’re watching the commentators and pundits talk about how pathetic our corporate leaders are, ask yourself if you are hearing the truth or hearing a limited number of examples that create the tension that the news cycle needs. Great leaders focus not just on their personal success but also on the success of others. And there really are a lot of great leaders around us.

Todd Thomas, Ph.D., is a contributing blogger for JenningsWire.

Mayer vs Gillard—A contrast in leadership success

An interesting pairing of events has occurred recently which brings up a good question. On the one hand, the first prime minister of Australia,  Julia Gillard, lost her position in a barrage of what appear to be just poor decisions, bad timing, and bad communication. While she herself has argued that it’s more than just gender, others have decided to make it an example of how female leaders are set up to fail. Ms. Gillard stated, ” The reaction to being the first female PM does not explain everything about my prime ministership, nor does it explain nothing about my prime ministership.”

Marissa Mayer

Mayer had a good year

Julia Gillard

Gillard not so much

At the same time, Marissa Mayer celebrated her first year as CEO of Yahoo! on July 16th. For the most part, she has been successful, even with some tough press regarding some of her more aggressive decisions (like bringing workers back into the office). Yahoo!’s stock (sorry—the brand and the apostrophe just look silly don’t they?) has risen over 70% since she has taken the helm and although Yahoo! is still not a major threat to Google, she is also only a year in. Her focus has been on culture change but she has managed to shore up earnings at the same time. That’s pretty impressive.

So, is the failure of Gillard a result of gender? Is the success of Mayer a result of gender? Is it possible to even tell?

The problem with a bully pulpit is that it always oversimplifies the situation. To imagine the Ms. Gillard failed only because the system defeats female leaders is to ignore all of the other elements that play a role in a leader’s success. To imagine that Mayer has been successful, even though she is a woman, is the same type of limited thinking. Of course these leaders have had to deal with specific constraints and battles because of their gender, but they have also battled against market and political forces that are gender neutral.

To reduce the debate to a single factor, whether it is gender, generation, ethnicity, whatever not only oversimplifies the situation but it takes away from the true leadership abilities of the person in question. Gillard may turn out to be a strong politician and moving force in Australia yet…she’s fearless and focused. Mayer may yet struggle, but she also has strong capabilities for which she deserves credit regardless of gender. We need leaders, whether women or men, and we should celebrate when we find them and learn from them regardless of their chromosomes.

What do you think?

 

Welcome to the Tribe. Really?

staffI have recently had the great opportunity to join a Chamber choir in my hometown. Yes, I know that reflects the tremendously exciting life that I live, but it’s fun. It’s also an interesting study in how groups work. In fact, the similarities to this highly talented, but volunteer group are amazing when you compare them to the work place. See if you can relate:

This choir has been together for many years and has a really tight group of very talented singers. On an individual basis, each of them is a truly delightful person. But as a group, there is a “membership effect” that makes it difficult for new members to assimilate.

For one thing, a fairly large percentage of their repertoire is made up of songs that have been performed at some point in the past. This common experience prompts reminiscing which, by definition, excludes anybody who was not around when the piece was originally added to the list.

There are also many rules that are not formally presented in any way but are discovered with time. Some are small rules—when to open the folder, when to sit during a performance, or whether or not a bottle of water can be on stage. Some are large rules—do we actually start rehearsal on time, how do you speak to the conductor, how hard do you practice.

Learning all of these rules is part of becoming a member of the group. The more forthcoming group members are about the rules, the faster a new person becomes a member of the tribe. The harder it is to determine what are the norms of the group, the harder it is to be accepted.

How many barriers do you have in accepting a new member to your team? More importantly, do you have time for a long acclimation process or do you need them to be collaborating and working with each other quickly? Chances are, if you leave the team to it’s own devices, the assimilation of new talent can be a long and costly process.  The longer it takes, the more the new member questions whether or not this is a team they want to run with. One of the first rules of any organized group of people is to preserve their identity. A new member challenges that preservation.

Orientations are great and you should keep doing them in order to let the new people know what the basic rules, policies and procedures for their position are. Even more important is to arrange opportunities for the new folks to learn the hidden rules. If you’re the boss, some of these rules will be hidden from you as well since your membership is specified by a role.

Arrange time for lunch or dinner between new team members and the rest of the team. Don’t gang-team them though…as a group the members will be more likely to inadvertently show how different they are rather than similar to the new person. Arrange for some casual one-on-one team with various members of the team and the newbie. If you really want to do it right, figure out who the leader of the tribe actually is (it’s not you by the way) and make sure that this person gets some alone time with the new member.

As the leader of the team, you can’t really force the process of assimilation of new members. You can, however, create an environment where new members are welcome and given every opportunity to connect with not only the team, but the individual members on the team. It may take a little time, but it will pay off in employee satisfaction and productivity fairly quickly.