As a business accelerator for CEOs, I work with leadership teams who have often worked unsuccessfully for years to overcome their scaling challenges. After attempting many approaches, leaders grow jaded when they find themselves unable to achieve the meaningful changes they desire.
The disappointment of missed goals — particularly revenue goals — is a common frustration. As teams fall short of their goals, leaders can fall into unproductive ways of thinking and leading. Often, they put their attention in the wrong place.
More often than not, I can predict where a team will fall short on a goal before they ever get started. I do not need to know anything about the company’s business, the quality of the team, or their commitment level.
A leader’s responses to four simple inquiries are my clues:
- Can you articulate what activities are most vital to improved performance?
- Can you name the single biggest constraint to you team’s forward progress?
- What behavior within your team’s control best addresses the constraint?
- Do you regularly measure the difference-making behavior?
If leaders do not focus performers on their most vital activity, they are flirting with failure before starting. It is, after all, where teams invest their time, energy, and attention that results are most likely to improve. If you find yourself falling short, it is likely that the activity most vital to achievement is not the overriding focus.
I most commonly observe goals focused on outcomes (e.g., revenue, margin, customer satisfaction) rather than the key activity that makes those outcomes a reality. No matter the professional arena, focusing on the key activity is a core discipline of next-level performance. For example, golfers focused on breaking 70 would be better focused on logging hours in the area where they lose the most strokes to par. Writers focused on writing a book would be better served to focus on writing 1,000 words/day.
Last month, I explored this success principle with a merchandising company’s executive team in their quarterly strategic planning meeting. While at first the team members wrestled in earnest over how to transform their goals, as their understanding grew, their conversations revealed insights. A confidence developed within them that they could achieve more than they had in the past by focusing on the how of the journey rather than merely the destination.
Two weeks later, the team’s sales leader sent me an image that represented an accurate understanding of where he needed to focus to grow, including:
- The leading and lagging indicators of his desired result
- Defining how often to assess progress and making adjustments in partnership with his team
- The single activity with the greatest propensity to impact results
- The key behavior that informs whether his team is winning or losing ground daily and weekly
The most effective goals can tell you whether your teams won today versus a week, month, or quarter from now. When people win each day in the week, they’re better positioned to win the week. When the team wins each successive week, they will be set up to win the month. And when they are winning each month in the quarter, they are positioned to win all the quarters in the year.
Keeping score on the difference-making behavior daily also enables each performer to learn and adjust their efforts on an on-going basis. In doing so, they are less likely to put themselves in a position where they fall too far behind to catch up. With improved daily choices, the desired results are assured.
How to Activate this Principle in Your Business
- Get curious. Assess the relationship between key leading and lagging indicators for your most challenging goals. Do you have a deep enough understanding of the ratios between key inputs and outputs?
- Get clarity. Choose the most vital activity to improve. Ensure the activity is 100% in your team’s control and directly addresses the bottleneck that unlocks all downstream outcomes. Does everyone agree?
- Get committed. In striving for higher performance, your team will be outside their comfort zone. They will face setbacks. Anchor your team to the larger aspiration. Inspire their courage. Foster group learning so they adjust their daily approach until they are successful. Are you inspiring new effort from your team?
- Keep Score! Track the details on a daily basis. Adjust commitments for the next day to make up where the team fell short today. Are you focusing them on the key difference-making activity?
Breaking the pattern of missing goals starts with a deeper understanding of the components that lead to outcomes leaders desire. When leaders get clear on the behavior, that if transformed changes everything, and teams get committed to a higher standard on that behavior, get ready for next level results!
This success principle has repeatedly unlocked 100%+ improvements in performance for leaders in as little as 90 days. Find a place to activate the principle in your business.