As we begin a new year, I reflect on two common (and related) questions I’m often asked by business owners or leaders:
“How can I set my business up for greater success this year than last year?”, and
“How can I accomplish this without working even more hours?”
These three key steps will surely set your business up for a very strong year ahead.
Identify Clear, Desired Outcomes for Your Business, Before Developing Detailed Plans
In January 2024, as you reflect on your business in the prior year, what specifically do you want your business to have accomplished? You would be shocked to know that only 20% of people set goals. And according to a Harvard Business Review study, those who set goals are 10 times more successful than those who don’t. Why is that?
You (and your teams) are more productive if everyone is focused on specific achievements each day, week, or month. You can start by giving your team direction, which then increases productivity. The goals provide clarity and enable everyone in your organization to understand exactly what you are seeking from the company.
By having clear expectations, you can hold yourself and your team accountable for results. No one can say, “I didn’t know what we were trying to accomplish,” if you make it very clear what, in fact, your goals are for the coming year. Contrary to what some may think, good employees actually embrace accountability. Like you, they also want a “scorecard” to evaluate their performance. Accountability also increases employee engagement, strengthens performance, improves attitudes, and generally creates an environment that energizes your team.
How should you set goals? Is there a specific format that works best? Many people prefer S.M.A.R.T. goals: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (meaning some deadline or allotted time frame). Some companies set KPIs – Key Performance Indicators for their teams. With KPIs, you (or your team leaders) work directly with individuals to determine what results will demonstrate success and achievement of your goals.
I always prefer simplicity. I often ask people this: what are some résumé-worthy accomplishments that you want to achieve at the end of the year? In other words, consider the three or four desired outcomes you would include on your résumé for the following year. If you wouldn’t have it on your résumé, it probably isn’t a true “needle-moving accomplishment” for your business.
I often hear people get hung up on whether something is a “goal” or an “objective.” I prefer to use the term “desired outcomes simply.” Perhaps your desired outcomes are financial and very specific. Or the outcome you desire may be less easy to measure, but you will “know it when you see it.” For example, you may realize that the key to your success this year is to develop a strong team that works together better. Measurement of success of that goal may be difficult, so paint a picture. What will a “strong, cohesive team” look like? How will you know? Paint a picture so that you and everyone on your team can clearly articulate what that outcome looks like.
Move Away from Dysfunctional Team Tendencies
In his bestseller: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni writes that teams that excel in 5 main areas are more likely to be high-functioning, cohesive teams. The five areas are: 1) Trust, 2) Conflict, 3) Commitment, 4) Accountability, and 5) Results. Many companies, however, fail to focus on building the foundations of the team and never achieve the results they genuinely seek. Each of these five areas can be developed, but the leaders must create an environment and commit to spending time to make these work. In particular, the first two areas can be addressed by an owner/CEO who cares and who wants to create meaningful improvement in their company.
The first, and I believe, most critical focus is “Trust.” Dysfunctional teams have an absence of trust, aren’t “real” with each other, and demonstrate invulnerability. High-functioning teams, however, trust each other. Deeply. They respect and accept each other. They are comfortable being vulnerable, and they trust the needs, competence, strengths, and character of each other.
Trust obviously doesn’t happen “overnight.” As a leader, you can create an environment that inspires trust. You can acknowledge, listen, and reward people who are willing to be vulnerable – to seek improvement. You can encourage people to challenge “sacred cows” or processes that need to be fixed, but no one has been willing to speak up. When people confront you in a manner that is genuinely seeking positive change, you should listen. Acknowledge that you hear what they are saying, and take the comments to heart. You certainly need to be able to differentiate between people who are being constructive vs. destructive. But don’t immediately get defensive. If you want to know what is going on in your company and what truly needs to change, then show respect to people willing to take a risk, speak up, and be vulnerable.
The second characteristic of high-functioning teams is dealing effectively with conflict. Do you encourage open, candid dialogue and constructive conflict? Or do you seek artificial harmony where people can’t discuss real issues, avoid conflict, and speak up …often because people in power don’t listen.
I once led an internal company workshop among the key organizational leaders. One of the people said that they felt that sometimes the CEO would gain agreement in the leaders’ meeting to a new process or rule. Still, the CEO would more-than-occasionally take actions after the meeting that appeared to not be in accordance with what had been agreed upon by the leaders. At that moment of our meeting, the CEO had the opportunity to have a candid dialogue and deal with conflict constructively. Instead, the CEO fired back that the person making the “accusation” was wrong and demanded they come up with another example because “clearly they didn’t get this example right.”
Instead of creating an opportunity for positive dialogue and discussing real issues in the spirit of finding positive ways to change, the CEO chose to shut down the conversation. In doing so, he created very bad feelings among most of the leaders and effectively shut down any good that might have come from a discussion. In the end, instead of a positive workshop that could bring the team together, the result could have been better. Team members shut down, trust was crushed, and commitment by each of the leaders was not able to be developed.
Measure Sales Activities … not Just Sales Results
The third step you can take in 2023 to create meaningful improvement for your business is to focus on measuring sales activities, not just the results. Pick a small number of activity-based metrics and then stick to them.
One of the biggest sales management mistakes companies can make is to focus on sales results rather than on sales activities. At first glance, that sounds strange. Our inclination in managing sales is usually to focus on results! So why should you focus on activities more than results?
Results are typically lagging indicators – meaning that the results lag behind the activities that drive the results. If you are measuring results for products or services with longer lead times and you don’t get the results you seek, it is too late to make meaningful changes to affect results that year.
Think of the example of weight loss.
You set a goal for the new year, let’s say, “I want to lose 36 lbs. in 2023.” You decide you can achieve this over the course of the year. If you focus only on measuring the results at year-end, it is too late to change if you miss your target. Even if you measure the results monthly but not the activities, you will learn sooner that you are missing your goals, but you won’t necessarily understand why and what to do about it. Instead, consider developing a clear strategy and measuring the activities that will drive weight loss. Each week, you set activity goals: consume X calories by eating specific meals each day and exercising X minutes each day. You don’t control the scale, but you do control the activities that drive the results. You know immediately how many calories you have consumed in a day or whether you ran for 30 minutes per your plan.
The same approach should be followed with sales management. Set realistic goals (SEE #1 ABOVE). Then, develop a strategy and plan of attack. For example, what activities do you need to do in order to bring 20 new prospects into your pipeline? Are you following those activities? How many follow-up calls will you likely need to make to close a deal? Are you making those calls?
For consumer products like wine, identify reasonable and achievable goals. Then determine the activities needed to generate those results. And track those activities. For example, how many retailers do you typically need to meet to close 10 sales? Are you conducting all those meetings? Or how many wine tastings do you need to have in order to generate your desired wine club memberships? What are the activities that will drive tastings? Identify and track those activities.
If you are interested in learning more secrets to measuring and managing sales performance, I recommend Jason Jordan’s book, Cracking the Sales Management Code.
In summary, I encourage you to take these three steps in 2023 to propel your business forward.
First, identify clear, desired outcomes for your business before developing detailed plans. Second, move away from dysfunctional team tendencies. Instead, invest time and energy in building trust and creating an environment where your team manages conflict directly and respectfully. Finally, focus on measuring sales activities – not just sales results. Determine the activities that will drive the desired results, then monitor, track, and hold people accountable for those activities.
Carter Welch is an accomplished business leader, consultant, and coach responsible for driving success in numerous businesses, large and small. A former Procter & Gamble and Pillsbury executive, he focuses today on guiding small business owners to identify obstacles, overcome fear, develop winning strategies, lead organizations, and ultimately, achieve great success. He can be reached at 707-339-2842 or by email at email@example.com.
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