By Kevin Uphill, Chairman of mergers and acquisitions service providers Avondale.
The following is an extract from Kevin Uphill’s latest business strategy book ‘Navigating the Rivers of Cash’ published by Falconbury
By being clear to the team and the company about where you want to be in the river and why, you create flow and momentum towards that objective.
However, setting the goal without agreeing the actions behind that goal is counterproductive. The usual CEO language might be, "Our goal is to be the leading seller of commercial X in Europe." Now what does it take to achieve this? A goal should be ambitious but ultimately, when broken into steps, clearly achievable. Each step should be within reach, usually on a stretching goals basis - that is, with each goal more progressive than the last.
* What specific actions are needed to achieve your goals?
There are a myriad of books and articles on goal setting, so I will keep this section short. The most interesting aspect for me is that once the destination is set there is the need for step actions. It's fascinating that today in most high-performance arenas, it is 'the geeks that rule the world'; by that, I mean those who analyse and get into the detail of each micro step and action.
I recently watched the highly successful motor racing film Rush, centred on the rivalry between racing drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauder during the 1976 Formula One motor-racing season. Niki is portrayed as almost dysfunctional in his focus, breaking down every element, action, preparation or goal with very clear discipline. As a result of his 'no stones left unturned' approach he was, without doubt, the more successful although Hunt - the archetypal playboy - was, by instinct alone, perhaps the better driver. He did win the Championship once against Lauder, but far more via luck than plan; Lauder was F1 World Champion three times in 1975, 1977 and 1984 and is considered to be one of the sport's greats. He has endorsed the film as highly accurate, and the story shows how consistency and preparation reap greater and more consistent rewards than flair alone. This concept is explored heavily in Matthew Syed's book Bounce where he reminds us that the right coach, right place and 10,000 hours of practice or more will nearly always win over talent.
Setting the goal around your primary purpose and objective and relating it to your customers' needs and your values with a future orientation is important, but today's sub actions and preparation, combined with discipline and utter focus, are what actually drive the success. Actions can be either leader-driven or team-driven but each should be clearly achievable. Goals with actions that are unachievable are demoralising, not aspirational - meaning that setting the actions and agreeing their likely realistic achievement with the team are essential.
It is important to be realistic about how much time the day job takes up when agreeing timescales, as some teams can be overoptimistic about tasks or goals because of their enthusiasm, without taking account of other activities and available resources.
You may have noticed that I have avoided the overused business strategy concept of 'visions' and 'missions'. A vision is where you want to be and a mission is how you will get there. Both are useful, with the difference in meaning clear in theory. However, in management communication, they can overlap which starts to get confusing and can therefore cause debate. It is better instead to communicate clear, simple and specific nextstep goals, the reasons why, and the actions required to achieve them.
By creating a culture of setting aspirational goals, breaking these down into bite-sized, measurable chunks, working with the team on the action to achieve each chunk and then consistently ensuring the delivery of the actions steps, you usually guarantee overall achievement and success. Work out the inputs and the actions, and the outputs come. If change and evolution are inevitable, then being clear on controlling the sub-actions gives you control of the overall flow.