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Ken Keller: Alignment of information key to goal achievement

Posted: November 11, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: November 11, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Toward the end of the year, the company held a planning retreat. All managers were told by the owner to arrive at a local hotel by 8 a.m.

When the session started, the owner announced the purpose of the meeting: to set company goals for the next year. The day kicked off with the projected results from the current year being revealed.

The owner did not provide specifics, but she did provide percentages: “Sales were up 3 percent” and profits “dropped by 5 percent” due to “an increase in expenses.”

No one except the owner and the finance manager had any point of reference beyond that.

“We must work harder,” she told everyone. “We simply cannot have another year like this one.” The managers wondered what she was talking about, because they believed they were all working pretty hard.

The rest of the day was spent setting three major goals for the company. The managers were to meet individually with the owner the next day to set department goals.

The owner arrived late to work, missing the meeting with the sales managers. During the second meeting, a major client called, leaving the production manager waiting for the majority of his scheduled time. The finance manager said that none of the company goals affected him. The owner agreed, but they spent two hours reviewing expenses. The day went by quickly, no manager really getting the needed attention of the owner.  

At the beginning of the second month of the year, she reviewed the numbers and they were nowhere close to the monthly goals. Sales were down, expenses up, and profits slim.

The owner wondered why she put up with such lousy performance. At the next staff meeting, her anger was barely in check. Again, she did not share numbers, only percentages. Leaving the meeting, the managers wondered what had caused their normally well-tempered boss to be so unlike herself.

None of the managers wanted to sit through another staff meeting like the one they just left, so they all vowed to work harder. By the end of the first quarter, the boss was angry, disappointed, frustrated and ready to terminate someone.

Does your company have this problem? Is something not working when it comes to goal development, creation of action plans and daily execution towards objectives?

Retreats can be great, but consistent follow-through is essential.    

The owner should have predetermined the three goals for the company, allowing input from the management team to clarify and for her to gain buy-in.

The rest of the retreat should have been spent working collaboratively as a team, each manager determining what resources were needed for goal achievement. Together, as a team, the managers and owner should have prepared an action list and timetable for each goal and then used the staff meetings to measure progress and take corrective action as needed.

Being vague about sales, expenses, cashflow and profits eliminates all responsibility and buy-in by managers. The fastest way to insure misalignment and grow disengagement is not sharing key metrics tied to goals.  

If the biggest responsibility an owner has is the financial health of the company, wouldn’t it make sense to share the information to gain agreement and alignment to achieve financial goals?  

The managers have one tool to use, hard work. Yet, hard work alone won’t achieve company goals. The owner has all other tools locked away and has no intention of sharing them.

Is there any wonder why this company underperforms and isn’t achieving its goals?

Ken Keller is CEO of STAR Business Consulting Inc., a company that works with small and midsize business owners to grow top line revenue. He can be reached at Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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