Making the Right Decisions
by Sharon Flemings

Okay, it’s the beginning of the fiscal year. You’ve finished the forecasting. And the budgeting. And the planning and goal setting. But, how do you know the goals and objectives you developed are going to contribute to the overall best interests of the organization? How do you know you’re actually going to achieve these goals?

Companies spend countless hours each year going through various exercises to create forecasts, determine annual goals, and create action plans that will eventually lead them to success. BUT:

  • How many of those organizations, at the end of the year, truly achieve the goals that were established at the beginning of the year?
  • (Dare I even say this) How many organizations change their goals at the end of the year to match what was actually accomplished?
  • What causes those organizations to miss meeting the goals that they had set for themselves at the beginning of last year? 

The secret to meeting early year expectations is making the right decisions about what to work on in the coming year - the annual goals and objectives. Everyone has had the experience of setting annual goals, only to spend much time over the course of the year “fire fighting” other issues/problems because they were more important to the company. Why the disconnect between what we thought was important, and the activities on which we really spent our time?

Ideally, the goals of lower level organizational units (be they business units, departments, project teams, or whatever) are aligned with the overall strategic direction of the corporation. (No kidding, Sherlock!)

While most of us intuitively understand this, many struggle with how to put this into practice. There are several key activities that are critical to ensuring the organization is aligned with the strategic direction of the company: Understanding the Strategic Direction, Understanding the Current State, and Identifying the Strategic Processes. Over the next few articles, we’ll explore each of these activities in more detail.

Understand the Strategic Direction
All senior executives have a vision of where they want to see the organization in the future. Their entire existence hinges on their ability to refine the vision, communicate that to their senior staff, and make a convincing argument to stakeholders that the vision is both reasonable and realistic, and provides the return expected by those stakeholders. CEOs are constantly on the lookout for opportunities to exploit, and sensitive to the challenges facing the organization while steering the company toward realization of that vision.

Managing a large organization is somewhat like steering a large battleship – everyone on the team needs to know their purpose, and understand how their actions affect the ability of the battleship to complete its mission. In the business world, it is imperative that the vision and strategic direction be communicated clearly to all levels of the organization. Each day, managers should know exactly how their actions contribute to “steering the battleship”, and other employees to “completing the mission”.

The daily challenge for senior executives, then, is to reinforce the understanding and communication of the objectives, while making “course corrections” as necessary.

For middle managers, the challenges are somewhat different. Many times, understanding the company’s strategic direction is a guess – at best. Whether because it is not directly communicated to employees or other stakeholders, or the company doesn’t have a published strategic direction, managers must make an effort to glean the corporate direction from other sources.

Fortunately, there are resources available that can help managers determine the general direction the company is taking. How does the company present itself on its corporate web site? What does the company say it is about? Is there a mission statement? Vision? Purpose?

What does the organization say to its investors when reporting to major stakeholders (investors or others)? What does the company say to the media/public about their activities?

These sources of information allow managers to formulate ideas about where the company is headed, and develop questions for the management team that will confirm (or not!) the understanding of the corporate direction. If the company does not have a published mission or purpose statement, develop a draft and present it to upper management to get feedback. This will provide valuable information into the “real” mission of the company, and clues as to what is really important to accomplish this year.

Take Action
Obtain the organizations’ mission/purpose statement (or draft your understanding based on what you know/observe). Compare your newly developed annual goals to the mission statement, and assign the number of points based the following:

3 – directly supports the realization/accomplishment of the mission of the organization

2 – somewhat supports the realization/accomplishment of the mission of the organization

1 – does not directly support the realization/accomplishment of the mission of the organization

Calculate the average for all goals, and answer the following questions:

  • What is the average score for all goals?
  • Are the majority of goals scored at 2 or below?
  • How well are you supporting the “battleship’s mission”?  Are there adjustments you need to make now in order to better contribute to the organization this year?

I would be interested in hearing about your results.

Related Articles:
Departments Are Not Unto Themselves
Identifying the Strategic Processes
Understand the Current State