One of the great tenets of leadership is the ability of the leader to discuss and set tangible, viable goals, often defined as being SMART - Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Based.
All very sensible and logical but the overall impression is one of some caution particularly in the case of Achievable and Realistic, both of which, to my mind, put constraints on blue sky thinking.
Lee Thayer, one of the best US speakers on the Vistage circuit, says that we need to employ only virtuosos (or should it be virtuosi?) so that there will be an input from free thinking people on the team, rather than people who merely agree all the time, especially with the leader.
The key to all this is the general reluctance to set objectives that are stretching so that success, such as it is, comes with little effort and probably from sheer momentum.
The function of the leader is to work with the team to set objectives which are, to say the least, stretching, familiarly known as B-HAGS, Big Hairy Audacious Goals (that is the clean version), goals which the gloom mongers and naysayers would define as being either unachievable or unrealistic.
I recall the aforesaid Lee Thayer telling me about a CEO consultancy client of his who had two serious deficiencies, he was authoritarian and everyone reported to him, and he had set no serious objectives for the business.
Turnover was around $18M and when Lee asked the CEO what his objective was for the following year, the answer was the conventional 10% increase to around $20M because he could do that in his head.
Lee, who knows something of psychology, suggested that $20M was kids stuff and he should consider nearer $40M at which the usual objections started to emerge.
“We don’t have the people, the equipment, the finances, the supply chain, the customers and so on and so on” and he was allowed to go on until he couldn’t think of any more excuses.
At this stage, he was asked the killer question:
“If you were to hit $40M turnover next year, what specifically would you need to do in order to achieve it?”
In other words, don’t just complain about the lack of resources, but rather start to work out precisely what resources would be required and how to make sure that they become available. Moreover, discuss it with the top team so that everyone buys into the process.
This produced a light bulb moment and the CEO became thoughtful.
“OK” he said, to his great credit, “I’ll talk to my people and see what they say”. Sometime later and somewhat to his own surprise the team were enthusiastic and they went for it.
On the face of it they failed as they only achieved $38.5M but it was not exactly a bad result, to say the least.
One or two points to make;
· “If you say you can or you say you can’t you’re always right”.
· People will work to achieve objectives, however stretching, if they have had input into the decision
· People resent having other people’s objectives imposed on them
· Try the B-HAG approach, stand back, and see what happens. You may well be surprised.
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