Over the years, I’ve seen this scenario over and over. An executive decides they want a real boost in growth and profits, so they set a big goal for their organization. Or, if they’re really ambitious, they develop a “BHAG” (a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal).
Then they rally the troops, announce their big goal with lots of fanfare and encourage their team by proclaiming they are confident it can be achieved.
The pronouncement is then followed by a cascade of meetings at all levels, during which it’s explained how the goal can be accomplished, thereby ensuring buy-in throughout the organization. Strategies and tactics are developed in each department so that there is a clear blueprint for success in place. And the initiative begins…
The problem is that the goal is rarely reached. Despite all the hoopla and slogans, despite all the detailed plans and projections, and despite all the accountability, results fall short. Why do these initiatives almost always miss their target? Why are these goals not met? The answer is simple.
A “goal” has no emotional component to it.
If you understand people and how they make buying decision, you also understand that people buy emotionally. This holds true whether we want someone to buy a widget or buy an idea. We are emotional creatures and are prompted to action by emotion more so than logic. Yes, we rationalize our decisions logically, but the decision is made emotionally.
Although an initiative may have a well-developed plan, trying to get people enthused about a big goal is like asking people to get excited about doubling sales. No one cares. (Except the owners/shareholders and the person who came up with the goal). It’s unrealistic to expect an enthusiastic, committed response to a cold, arbitrary goal.
In order for something really significant to be accomplished, people need to work diligently towards its attainment. They need to maintain their commitment to it in the face of obstacles and setbacks. The only way to achieve that state is for everyone to “buy-in” to the initiative. And as we noted, people buy emotionally.
Therefore, if an executive truly wants a team to get behind an initiative and really strive to achieve it, the initiative must have an emotional component. There needs to be a compelling “why”. An effective initiative has to embrace a meaningful reason for the pursuit of it. Only then will the efforts be persistent enough to reach the objective. And, if the initiative is well thought out and relevant, the tangible “goal” will almost always be attained as a consequence of the quest.
An example of an initiative with an emotional component might be something like: “We want to be known in our industry as the premier provider of custom solutions. We want to set ourselves apart from our competitors by developing creative solutions for the difficult problems faced by our customers.”
This is an initiative people can get behind, rally around, and take pride in achieving. Also, because the initiative is a way of being rather than the attainment of an arbitrary number, the nature of the strategies and tactics developed will be very different from those created simply to drive sales in the next quarter. Additionally, because it will create a fundamental shift in the way the company does business, the results will be longer lasting.
If you want to be an exceptional executive, get away from setting goals and start developing meaningful initiatives.