The CEO Challenge for January 2011

What are your odds?

Happy New Year, Challenge readers! We hope you’ve enjoyed a wonderful holiday season and that your team is invigorated to achieve the company goals you’ve set for 2011. (Not finished with the planning process? Check out this article.)

It’s easy to be confident that you’ll meet those goals – after all, you have 12 new months ahead of you. But in his book 8th Habit, Stephen Covey provides a sobering analogy:

37% of employees have a clear understanding of what their organization is trying to achieve and why

1 in 5 employees has a clear “line of sight” between individual tasks and the team’s goals

Now comes the sobering part: what if a soccer team had those stats?

Only 4 of 11 players on the field would know which goal is theirs

Only 2 of 11 would know what position they play and what they’re supposed to do The CEO Challenge for January 2011 – page 2 of 5 Do you have comments, questions or feedback? Please share your thoughts at Subscribe to the CEO Challenge via email or RSS at


Companies have become very good at setting annual goals that impact both top and bottom line results. What isn’t so impressive is their success rate in achieving those goals.

Why not? What gets in the way?

It’s true that market forces beyond company control often impacts their results. But the business environment is always tough, and industries suffer together. More often than not, the difference between a company and its competitor is the ability to execute.

In their well known book Execution, Ram Charan and Larry Bossidey write, “Execution is the great unaddressed issue in the business world today. Its absence is the single biggest obstacle to success and the cause of most of the disappointments that are mistakenly attributed to other causes.”

If your company hasn’t met its goals in the last few years, take a realistic look at your 2011 goals. Ask yourself how important those goals are to your company. What’s the impact to the company if you actually do achieve these results? What’s the impact on your growth? On your personal income? On the lives of your employees? On your ability to enjoy life? On your standing with your peers or your industry?

Your answers may tell you that meeting your goals will have tremendous impact on your future. If so, your team will want to conduct a true, honest, and meticulous examination of HOW you will get there and the obstacles that will get in your way.

This year I’m writing a number of articles about execution excellence. Like most good things, execution is a discipline, a process that requires putting one piece of the puzzle in place at a time. Soon, as one piece fits nicely into another and then another, the company starts clicking at a faster pace. The goal is to establish an execution culture so that the goals are met this year, and then even more aggressive goals can be set and met in subsequent years.

Today, let’s talk about communicating your 2011 goals. Here are specific action steps to address the two Stephen Covey issues – issues that seriously affect your odds of success this year. The CEO Challenge for January 2011 – page 3 of 5 Do you have comments, questions or feedback? Please share your thoughts at Subscribe to the CEO Challenge via email or RSS at

Issue: Only 37% of employees have a clear understanding of what their organization is trying to achieve and why

I know some of you are thinking this issue doesn’t apply to you. After all, you’ve made the goals public and communicated who will be responsible for which objectives and/or initiatives.

Help your employees understand how the goals fit into the overall strategic mission of the company. Why is it important and why is it important to do now? How does it help move us forward?

Without understanding the context – the “why” of a goal – employees may walk away with very different approaches and attitudes about the goal, and the actions they choose can vary dramatically based on their interpretations. Here’s an example:

GOAL: Sell $1M of our product in Germany in 2011. Interpretation #1

The company is testing the European market to see if there is potential there for product x. It’s critical to have some raving fans who will act as a referral base for future expansion.

Interpretation #2

The company needs to offload excess inventory at a lower price than what is being offered in the US.

Can you imagine how employees with interpretation #2 would execute in a very different (and possibly destructive) fashion versus employees with interpretation #1?


We always recommend writing goals in S.M.A.R.T. format (specific, measurable, agreed upon, realistic, timely). Yet that action alone isn’t enough because S.M.A.R.T. goals alone don’t generate EMOTION. It’s the understanding about WHY — the purpose and meaning behind the work — that generates emotion and buy-in from employees.

If that emotion doesn’t enter into the equation, employees can easily just go through the motions to get tasks done. But if you want employees who are invested, have a sense of ownership, and think creatively about how to achieve your collective goals, emotion is a necessary component. The CEO Challenge for January 2011 – page 4 of 5 Do you have comments, questions or feedback? Please share your thoughts at Subscribe to the CEO Challenge via email or RSS at

Don’t assume your employees understand why a goal is in place. Give it context. Make it real. Make it important. Then your employees will make it important and real as well.

Issue: 1 in 5 had a clear “line of sight” between their task and the team’s goals

Every goal comes with a long list of objectives and tasks. Every employee wants to feel a part of something big, to believe their work has purpose. To imbue them with that sense, you need to clearly and consistently draw a line between their work and the corporate goals / mission.

When my son was about 5 years old, he was on a basketball team where the children swung the ball two-handed through their legs and up to the basket. Every basket was greeted with loud whoops and hollers. One day my son asked, “How do we know who won?” He hadn’t yet seen the connection between baskets, points, and wins.

The closer an employee is to the top of the organization, the wider the perspective. To a CEO or VP, the line of sight between daily activities and the mission is clear. But deeper in the organization, the perspective narrows.

For example, last week I was driving behind a beat-up truck from an HVAC company. Beyond the chipped paint and dented fender, the truck hadn’t been washed since the summer sandstorms. On the side of the truck was one of those magnetic signs that read: “AT X COMPANY YOU GET WHAT YOU EXPECT…PERFECTION.” I laughed out loud. Clearly, this company wasn’t showing employees that link between their actions and the company’s supposed goal.

Here’s another example from the medical profession: a hospital nurse is asked to wear a distinctive vest while dispensing medication. The links to the company goals are:

> Everyone recognizes that the vest means the nurse is dispensing medicine

> The vest tells co-workers that the nurse is not to be interrupted

> The lack of interruptions improves focus

> Focus reduces errors

> Fewer errors saves lives. The CEO Challenge for January 2011 – page 5 of 5 Do you have comments, questions or feedback? Please share your thoughts at Subscribe to the CEO Challenge via email or RSS at

If the nurse didn’t understand the connection, she might complain about the ugly vest. She might “forget” to put it on or just refuse to wear it. And if the hospital’s goal is to reduce preventable errors, her choices – born from a lack of sight to the goal – could prevent the hospital from meeting that goal.

This month, take the time to review your 2011 goals with all of your employees. Make sure they understand what the goals are and why they’re important. Demonstrate how various tasks and jobs tie into those goals and impact the organization’s ability to reach them. Doing so will improve your odds and give you something to truly celebrate during the holidays next year!


Jane Adamson is the CEO of The Revenue Game and can be reached at


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