Turning Year-end Goals into Long-term Action Plans

Welcome to 2018! Now that we’re nearing the end of January, the gyms have finally cleared out, fast food drive-through lines are long again, and most household “we’re-finally-going-to-get-out-of-debt” budgets have been forgotten in the junk drawer.

*Sniff*… did you catch that? That stale aroma is the smell of the status quo.

But before you accuse me of being a cynic, let me just say clearly: I LOVE goals and planning, and I’m confident that change is possible and growth is essential in business and life. I’m just realistic about how that change and growth happen. You wouldn’t walk into your garden and declare, “There are no weeds… there are no weeds… there are no weeds,” and expect to open your eyes to a perfectly manicured garden.

"It's not the initial desire that matters. It's the follow-through."

The same is true for any goal. It’s not the initial desire that matters, it’s the follow-through. So how do you turn your 2018 business goals into actionable roadmaps that lead to success? And how do you get your entire organization focused on the same goals and rowing in the same direction?

 

Start with 'why'

The value of having clear goals, in theory, is that everybody knows your destination and can make consistent decisions to arrive at that destination. The problem is that goals, by themselves, are generally not enough to guide consistent decision-making by your employees. You need something deeper and more tangible to guide their decisions… and, preferably, to inspire them to give their all.

The Simon Sinek TED Talk, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” is tossed around as a bit of a cliché at this point; however, the core point of his philosophy is timeless: start with “Why.” The idea is that knowing why your organization exists will inspire your employees, partners, and clients to contribute to your goals. But this requires your why to be inherently inspiring... not just “make money for our shareholders” or “beat the other guys.” Think along the lines of social impact, making life easier for someone, etc.

And having a strong why allows every member of your team to make game-time calls that are consistent with those you would make as the leader, because they share with you the same orientation to the end result.

Compare this to the universally maddening “that’s not how we’ve done it before” or “that’s against our policy” corporate mentalities, and it’s easy to see the appeal of a “why-based” organization.

"Once your Why is clear, your goals become milestones on the journey, not destinations in and of themselves."

A few years ago, I had the privilege of helping a natural gas utility rethink their why. Instead of “delivering gas safely to our customers” (not exactly chills-on-the-neck inspirational), it became “fuel the transformation of our small communities by saving our customers money that they can invest locally.” That new focus led to the creation of new products, new marketing initiatives, new policies, etc. – and helped turn that utility into the fastest-growing U.S. gas utility two years in a row (while serving a geography with a shrinking population).

Once your why is clear, your goals become milestones on the journey, not destinations in and of themselves.

Line of sight for all employees

One of the most common complaints by rank-and-file employees (besides being referred to as “rank-and-file,” perhaps) is that they have to sit through boring and pointless presentations by pretentious executives who pat themselves on the back for achieving abstract financial goals, while paying patronizing lip service to “all of you who made this possible.” They can’t see how their day-to-day actually contributes to corporate goals.

The strongest organizations recognize that EVERY employee brings value (that’s why you hired them, after all) and should be empowered to contribute toward company goals. And if employees understand how their actions impact your shared goals, they are more likely to make decisions that align with those goals (and support tough decisions by leaders).

You can provide “line of sight” for each employee to see their role in achieving your goals. To do this, however, you need to rethink how you structure your strategy.

Cascading strategy

When you build your strategy, it should provide a roadmap to get you from where you are to where you want to go. Often, however, that roadmap is relatively high-level. At best, it may be prescriptive for each corporate department or executive, but its value as a day-to-day guide diminishes the deeper you go into your organization. To counter this reality, it's important to take your corporate strategy and “cascade” it down each level in your organization.

(TIP: If you want a tool to make this easier, check out Cascade at ExecuteStrategy.net.)

Let’s dive in and see how this works…

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DETERMINE 3-5 STRATEGIC OBJECTIVES

First, identify three to five strategic objectives from your strategy. Examples might include:

  • Add $10M in new profitable accounts in 2018.
  • Be a Colorado top 10 best place to work by 2020.
  • Increase net profit from 10% to 20% in 2018.
  • Decrease work-related accidents by 10% in 2018.
  • Add five marquee clients, each worth $1M+/year, in 2018.

Some organizations choose to have at least one strategic objective from each of the balanced scorecard areas: financial, internal processes, learning and growth, and customer service. Regardless of how you choose your strategic objectives, however, these should become the primary scorecard you use to measure and communicate success across your organization. You may (and should) have more complex measures at the executive level (or even in each department), but keep your “all-hands” communication focused on your three to five strategic objectives.

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EXECUTIVE OBJECTIVES

Now that you know what you will achieve this year, it’s important to figure out how each executive will contribute to those objectives. Then turn those contributions into individual executive objectives.

If one strategic objective is “Add $10M in new profitable accounts in 2018,” then perhaps your executive team members will take responsibility for the following:

  • CMO: Generate $100M in marketing-qualified pipeline and $50M in sales-accepted pipeline in 2018.
  • VP of Sales: Close 20% of opportunities.
  • COO: Onboard new clients in less than 14 days.
  • CFO: Develop a gross margin model for new accounts and help sales and marketing adjust qualification criteria to maximize gross margin.
  • VP or HR: Recruit one new experienced sales leader for each region before May.
  • VP of Customer Service: Improve Net Promoter Score from 15% to 35%.

As you can see, each objective feeds directly and clearly into the $10M goal. Not everybody has direct influence over sales, but each has a role to play to enable those who do.

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TEAM OBJECTIVES

You can probably see where this is going. The next step is to determine how each team under an executive will contribute to each of the executive objectives, turning them into team objectives.

Let’s look at how the CMO might structure team objectives in order to “Generate $100M in marketing-qualified pipeline and $50M in sales-accepted pipeline in 2018”:

  • Lead-gen team: Generate 20,000 new opted-in leads.
  • Content team: Nurture new leads into 2,000 marketing-qualified leads.
  • Events team: Touch 3,000 high-value leads at events.
  • Marketing ops: Add 50,000 verified contacts to the outbound database.

Each executive would do the same for their direct reports.

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INDIVIDUAL OBJECTIVES

The team objectives repeat through the organization until you reach individual contributors. This should include every employee in your organization. These objectives should be tangible and balance realism with ambition. If they are too vague or theoretical, then many employees will have a hard time figuring what, exactly, they should be focusing on each day. If they are either too ambitious or easy, then they are likely to be ignored.

If we look at the content team from the CMO organization example above – “Nurture new leads into 2,000 marketing qualified leads” – then members of the team may have the following objectives:

  • Content manager: Define top five personas and identify content holes in the buying process for each persona.
  • Writer #1: Produce one new piece of premium content each month that maps to the highest-priority content gaps.
  • Writer #2: Produce two blog posts per week, one that drives engagement with premium content and one that boosts ranking on targeted keywords.
  • Email marketing coordinator: Program dynamic nurturing paths for each persona through the buying cycle for each product.

As you can see, this level gets much more prescriptive than previous levels. That doesn’t necessarily have to be the case, but it does help clarify what each employee should be prioritizing in their work tasks. For instance, based on the above, your email marketing coordinator is likely to prioritize programming nurturing paths over designing new email templates… moving you closer to your goal without you having to micromanage their activity.

You may find that this process also helps identify resource gaps. If you have to justify how you will reach 2,000 marketing qualified leads, for instance, but your individual objectives only realistically add up to 1,000, then you may need to add more employees (or tech, or channels, etc.).

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MEASURING SUCCESS

Annual reviews are a common formality in most organizations, but don’t save your feedback for the end of the year. Having clear individual objectives makes it easy to check in and refocus regularly. I’ve led fast-moving teams where we check in on individual objectives each week, and after a couple months my team was instinctively focusing on the highest-priority tasks without much input from me. (And, more importantly, my team kept me focused on the highest priorities, since I was much more likely to chase shiny objects than they were, if I’m honest.)

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RECOGNITION

Once you have clear strategic objectives that everybody knows, and each employee understands how they are contributing to the achievement of those objectives, your all-hands meetings, employee newsletters, CEO messages, etc. will naturally be much more meaningful. So double down and look for examples of teams and employees achieving their objectives in creative new ways. This will reward focusing on objectives while encouraging innovation.

So, here’s to finding your why, rethinking your strategy, and blowing your goals out of the water in 2018!

And if you would like to dive deeper or get some help on implementing a cascading strategy in your company, let us know on our Contact page. Plus, don’t forget to check out Cascade, a tool that helps you do everything we discussed here, at ExecuteStrategy.net. (We don’t get anything for referring you… they don’t even know we’re doing this, but they are awesome.)

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About the Author

Aaron Owens is the Strategy Director for Bonfire Effect. His strategies have helped double and triple growth rates for companies across energy, tech, government services, health and wellness, and manufacturing.