As 2015 marches to a close, many CEOs are in the process of preparing for strategic meetings to be held in November or December. Those meetings are not only focused on planning for 2016, but are also a time of reflection regarding the achievement of this year’s goals.
For some, this reflective process will be one of satisfaction, maybe even celebration. For others, it may signal a final sprint to the end of the year in the hope of still achieving outcomes that seem within reach. And unfortunately for many, it will be a time to acknowledge that such goals will not be reached.
For those in this latter category, it is a natural human tendency to look for something or someone to blame for our shortfalls. While it is wise to seek out the real reasons for failing to achieve goals, it is incredibly unproductive to blame others—or ourselves— for those failures. The anger and unhappiness that accompanies blaming fails to set a foundation for better performance in the future. The key question is not who is to blame, but rather what should we learn.
If we learn from this year’s shortfalls, we can expect greater effectiveness in 2016. Leaders should address three fundamental issues in this retrospective evaluation:
- Was the goal appropriate and well-suited to the individual(s) responsible for its achievement?
- Were key participants sufficiently motivated to achieve the goal?
- Were those participants capable of achieving the goal?
With regard to the first of these, an effective evaluation might employ the SMART standard for goal-setting:
- Was the goal Specific, with a clear desired outcome?
- Was it Measurable—and were appropriate metrics regularly tracked through the course of the year?
- Was it Assigned, meaning that the individual(s) responsible for its achievement were clearly designated, and that they understood the essential and sustaining actions that would lead to success?
- Was the goal Relevant to the overall mission, vision and culture of the organization? The lack of “fit” in this regard is often a root cause of such failures as key stakeholders will often balk at such incoherence.
- Was the goal Time-Bound, with appropriate accountability milestones at regular time intervals within the year?
Having addressed these issues regarding the content of the goal, leaders then need to turn their attention to the second issue—motivation. Lack of motivation is often the most critical underlying cause of “failure to achieve.” The most obvious and telling signal of this is procrastination, even when the goal was thoroughly SMART.
In general, what leads us to procrastinate? The simple answer is that we either don’t enjoy the task before us, or we deem other things to be more important or enjoyable.
A recent article in TIME magazine stressed three keys to overcoming procrastination and maintaining motivation:
- Get Positive. Most goals require hard work, but there is nothing that says that leaders can’t find ways to make the process fun. One of my clients initiated a series of rigorous lean management techniques in his company. He reinforced the actions he expected by periodically tossing out specially designed tee-shirts to his top performers. The shirts had little value, but it became a fun type of cheer-leading that contributed to a motivated workforce.
- Get Rewarded. This needn’t be a bigger paycheck (although for significant milestones, a financial reward might be in order). It can be as simple as recognition or buying lunch for someone. I had a boss year’s ago in Los Angeles who dropped into my office several times during baseball season with Dodgers’ tickets. He said, “Rich, you’re doing a great job. Take the afternoon off and go watch the Dodgers beat the Cubs.” I loved that guy—and worked all the harder to meet our corporate goals!
- Get Peer Pressure. Wherever possible, it’s wise to avoid having key stakeholders work alone on a project. In addition to holding one another accountable, two or more people working together tend to reinforce accuracy and pace. One of my clients has instituted what they call “paired programming” where their software engineers work side-by-side in writing code. They focus together on each programming issue. What might appear doubly expensive has proven to be highly productive in meeting their programming goals.
The last key issue that must be addressed in a retrospective review of goals is capability; i.e., did your people possess the necessary skills to achieve your goals? I will address this in next month’s article.
Richard Tyson is the founder, principal owner and president of CEObuilder, which provides forums for consulting and coaching to executives in small businesses.