Why Setting More than 2 or 3 Yearly Goals Is a Bad Idea

We all have goals. Sometimes we call them objectives. Whatever they’re called, setting the table for the coming year is something all business owners must do. If the goals are bold enough and complex enough, they are referred to as "strategic." The implementation is more complex than one person can tackle alone. Some call these kinds of goals "BHAGs"—Big, Hairy (complex) Audacious Goals.  

We all have goals. Sometimes we call them objectives. Whatever they’re called, setting the table for the coming year is something all business owners must do. If the goals are bold enough and complex enough, they are referred to as "strategic." The implementation is more complex than one person can tackle alone. Some call these kinds of goals "BHAGs"—Big, Hairy (complex) Audacious Goals. 

Let's examine the process in a local family business. The owner did his homework and sat down to plan the strategic goals he wanted to get accomplished for the next year. He was pumped up.

That was the situation I encountered while advising a $4-million manufacturing/distributor of technical industrial products. On the year's agenda were the following:

1. Establish a physical presence

Break ground for, complete, and move into a modern, state-of-the-art facility. The landlord raised the rent at the old location to the point where it wasn't fiscally prudent to remain there. Architectural drawings and building plans had been drawn up in the previous year and appropriate land had been purchased. A general contractor had been hired and promised to start as soon as the weather permitted in the spring. He assured the owner the building would be complete and ready to move in before the first snow of the fall.

2. Establish new systems

The company administrative/accounting IT systems were antiquated. The owner no longer felt comfortable with the accuracy or the timeliness of information provided by these systems. An outside accounting firm had been brought in the prior year and  recommended a newer, more reliable platform (Windows 97 was no longer supported).  So another goal for the year was to switch to the newer platform and system.

3. It’s a family affair

Inquiries from potential overseas customers had been increasing in recent years. The company’s market territory was principally the United States and Canada. The potential seemed to be attractive, but no one in the company had international business experience. Luckily (?), the eldest son had decided the prior year his future did not lie in furthering his career in a Washington, D.C.-based political job with his degree in international relations. He came home and had been the company production manager. The owner promoted the young lad to manager for European activities and he was tasked with developing that market for the company’s products. As an aside, the company had never had a sales manager other than the owner, who, in addition to being the CEO, was also the chief scientist, directly responsible for new product creation and product development. He also was 67 and really wanted to retire soon.

4. Create performance standards

The office manager (wife of the CEO)  was continuously critical of and dissatisfied with the performance of her entire administrative staff. Her major goal for the year was to oversee the implementation of a new IT/accounting system. The company’s advisors suggested (note: advisors suggest or advise, that's why they’re called advisors) she implement a formal performance appraisal system with detailed, written performance standards against which to measure performance. By doing so, they reasoned, her people would know what her concerns were about their performance and her staff might be in a better position to understand what they were doing to upset her. The CEO and the plant manager  thought this was a good idea and took to heart the notion that employees should be provided regular performance feedback.

That's only 4 BHAGs. There were a couple more, including an ongoing ownership transition plan that the wife insisted that all four of the sons share equally in the eventual transfer of ownership (even though only one of the sons actually was working in the business).  That, however, is a story for a future installments of this blog.

What happened? What do you think happened? Don't read further until you have thought about it for a minute or two. 

Surprise! NONE of the BHAGs were fully accomplished during the goal year.

1. The new building wasn't completed until late June of the following year. Weather was not a contributing factor. Multiple design changes and change orders dragged out the construction process. Aside: I recommended the general contractor who was hired because, among other things, he had a great track record of on-time delivery and had a lot of experience in working with closely-held business owners. He told me later this project was the most difficult/stressful general contracting project he has ever undertaken. Luckily, he still talks to me.

2. The company trusted neither the old IT nor the new IT systems. So, they ran both in parallel for the better part of the next two years. The outside accounting firm's advice throughout this period fell on deaf ears, primarily because the CEO's wife didn't believe either system was accurate. In reality, the solution was way beyond her pay grade, but after all, she was the wife of the owner.   

3. The son's performance in opening the new market was, frankly, a disaster.  He was earnest, loyal, dedicated, but held a position far beyond his competence. While he was personable and gregarious, he lacked the technical skills and expertise necessary to create a profitable outcome. The company’s advisors finally got the CEO to admit that if his last name had not been "Smith" (disguised name), he would have been terminated 12 to 14 months into the project. He continued in the same position, with mediocre results, for at least the next four years.

4. How about the performance appraisal system? Surely that must have gone off without a hitch. Nope. The CEO and plant manager embraced the system wholeheartedly. They set up formal performance reviews and the back of the shop (operations, R&D) responded extremely well. Cost of goods sold dropped significantly.  On-time delivery greatly improved. Waste/rework dropped. The back of the company exhibited much better teamwork and interpersonal communication. Unfortunately, these results were not replicated in the office. The CEO’s wife refused to implement the system, continued to rail against what she considered poor/substandard performance and didn't buy in.  As result, the IT/Accounting systems continued to be dysfunctional, the office atmosphere was toxic, and at the end of the day, because "Mama isn't happy, no one was happy."

What can be learned from this story?

1. BHAGs are generally carved out of the time you have after you have done your day job. The day job doesn't go away just because you have an overarching project to accomplish. 

2. Most people are not good at juggling. Even semi-pro jugglers have a hard time juggling more than three items at a time. Most people have a hard time juggling two items at a time. We live in a work culture in which  people are praised for their multi-tasking skills. Juggling and multi-tasking are the same thing. In smaller enterprises, the stretch, or extra time that people have to work on things other than their day jobs is pretty limited. That's why more than two or three yearly important goals don't get accomplished on time.

3. Family business frequently does not work because the family often takes precedence over good business practices.

4. You are only as good as your weakest link. Goal accomplishment needs everyone to be competent and on the same page.

Jeffrey C. Susbauer, Ph.D. is Associate Professor Emeritus at the Monte Ahuja College of Business, Cleveland State University where he has taught strategic management and entrepreneurship courses since 1970.  A long-time consultant to scores of businesses, a member of the boards of advisors to over 60 companies, he co-founded and serves as the principal instructor for the COSE Strategic Planning/CEO Development Course for the past 36 years. The course is concerned with providing entrepreneurs with education to guide their vision, strategic thinking and execution in their businesses.

Want to learn more about the Strategic Planning/CEO Development course? Click here for additional information or contact Jeff via email.

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  • Next up: Why the Customer Lifecycle is Crucial to Your Business

    Why the Customer Lifecycle is Crucial to Your Business

    Many small businesses are laser-focused on just getting the sale. While there’s no doubt acquiring customers is crucial, retaining them is just as important. The key to customer retention is understanding the customer lifecycle journey, according to Mike Stocker, director of business development at Marketo. From the moment the customer first learns about your product or service, to the day they become a full-fledged advocate, there is a lifecycle that customers follow. Understanding that lifecycle is an essential part to retaining the customers you already have, Stocker said during a recent webinar.

    Many small businesses are laser-focused on just getting the sale. While there’s no doubt acquiring customers is crucial, retaining them is just as important. The key to customer retention is understanding the customer lifecycle journey, according to Mike Stocker, director of business development at Marketo.

    From the moment the customer first learns about your product or service, to the day they become a full-fledged advocate, there is a lifecycle that customers follow. Understanding that lifecycle is an essential part to retaining the customers you already have, Stocker said during a recent webinar.

    “Consumers today are moving between different (marketing) channels,” he said. “You need to think about your strategy across all of your channels.”

    An example of this, he said, is understanding that some customers might be more apt to check their email first thing in the morning when they wake up. That could be an ideal time for your email marketing campaign. “Engage at the right time,” he said.

    Increasing mobile usage is driving the customers’ movement between channels, Stocker said. That has led to a rise during the past five or 10 years of engagement marketing.

    “This is where you’re focused more on the long-term relationship,” he said.

    The key tenets of engagement marketing, he said, are:

    •   understanding your customers are individuals;

    •   evolving your marketing message continuously over time;

    •   directing your messaging toward a positive outcome; and

    •   ensuring your message is everywhere your customer is.

    “Marketing is becoming the steward of the customer journey,” he said.

    One good example of this? Stocker said he purchased a pair of pants from a clothing retailer two years ago. Recently, he got an email from the business suggesting some shirts that go well with the pair of pants he bought.



    This kind of marketing does bring about its own set of unique challenges, Stocker said. Chief among those is measuring the impact of your messaging.

    For instance, Stocker said 82.2% of marketers are unable to measure cross-channel performance or return on investment. This limited visibility can make it difficult to understand whether you’ve created a winning message.

    Another challenge for small business in particular is how to devote limited resources to such an intensive marketing plan. Mike Madden, demand generation program manager at Marketo, said small companies would do well to mimic their larger brethren.

    The key is to create unique, personalized conversations with your customers. At its core, this is powered by strong segmentation and the personalization capabilities of your marketing automation solution or email service provider.


    This article originally appeared in the September 7, 2015, edition of Small Business Matters.

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  • Next up: Why You Need to Change Your Selling Process to Compete in the Amazon Era

    Why You Need to Change Your Selling Process to Compete in the Amazon Era

    Approaches to buying are evolving as technology advances. Selling tactics must keep up if companies are to remain relevant. How poised is your company to keep up with these continuously-changing processes in 2018?

    The rules of business continue to change. A number of these changes are redefining how business is done and selling is one function being transformed. If companies want to successfully participate in the future, they must adapt. 

    How customers buy is one area where companies with outdated models for buying and selling struggle. Let’s look at two examples where the buying and selling processes have changed and will continue to drive change across industries: Toys and automobiles.

    Example No. 1: Toys

    Traditional specialty retail companies like Toys R Us were late to online selling. To close the gap, they tried a non-exclusive relationship with Amazon to address the fulfillment role. As time moved forward, customers grew comfortable with the online buying experience versus the brick and mortar store experience. In September 2017, Toys R Us filed for bankruptcy protection.

    Example No. 2: Automobiles

    The auto industry is seeing a similar need to continuously revise their selling model. The average car buyer’s research skills have increased. Their demands for tailoring a car and scheduling test drives, as well as a more transparent and streamlined purchasing process, have all increased. Many car buyers are expecting to reduce their time in the dealership environment and have more choices, options and guarantees than in the past. According to Autotrader, the top five activities conducted online by car shoppers include: researching car prices, finding actual cars listed for sale, comparing different models, finding out what a current car is worth, and locating a dealer or getting dealer info. Clearly buyers are getting very skilled in conducting the research they need in order to increase their confidence in negotiating and making better buying decisions.

    In the age of Amazon, is your B2C or B2B selling process/model evolving and current with what your customers need from you?

    So if buyers know how to research products and services as consumers, what do your customers need from your sales people when they first meet? As this self-service behavior becomes the normal buying and selling process for B2C buyers, it is easy to see how this model would be applicable in a range of buying scenarios for B2B environments.

    Since the 1990’s B2B companies have broadened the use of the Internet and related technology across the enterprise. Companies have formed well-organized teams of decision makers, increased access to data and information, developed sophisticated buying processes, and leveraged technology to augment human research and decision making. As we see in the B2C markets, this allows most companies to complete much of their research and decision process before ever meeting your salesperson.

    How the B2C and B2B customers buy what they need from you and the customer experience they prefer are critical areas under pressure by new digital tools being created every day. The customer used to need more from a sales person in order to evaluate and solve a problem or need.

    For every business, how you engage your customer depends on several factors to include:

    • The complexity and specifications of your product/service;
    • if your product is an integral component of/in the customer’s product/service;
    • if your product changes or is upgraded frequently;
    • if the purchase is the first one or ongoing transactions (repeat purchases); and
    • if your product is a commodity.

    As technology improves, the buying and selling processes will continue to evolve.

    Have your marketing, sales, customer service and fulfillment processes and your sales training and strategies kept up with these trends and changes in the buying process in order to remain relevant and aligned with your most demanding and most profitable customers?

    Are you engaging your customers at each stage of their buying process? Whether it is a first-time customer or a long-term loyal customer, are people, processes, data, and digital tools aligned to respond to and satisfy customers based on the way they want to buy to help them achieve their goals?

    The purpose of every business is to attract, create and retain the target customers that build the business. Building your business model around your best customers, what they need and how they buy is a great place to assess your selling process.

    What needs to change in your sales process in 2018: How you sell? How you train? How your selling process best fits the customers buying process?

    Consider the following steps (which I will cover in future articles):

    • Assess and define where you are today with your best customers, their needs and their experience doing business with you. Does your selling process align with their buying process?
    • Develop a vision for your new selling process and commission a cross-functional team to champion the changes and improvements identified by your best customers.
    • Develop an action plan to upgrade your capabilities, improve your processes/systems/tools to augment human skills/effort, overcome obstacles/resistance and move toward the vision.
    • Pilot changes with cooperative customers and demonstrate quick wins to key internal stakeholders.
    • Consolidate lessons, identify training needs, reinforce the benefits of the new selling process and recognize the desired new behaviors.

    Your best customers depend on you and they want you to keep up with them. What must you do now in order to do a better job for your customers in the future?

    Wayne Bergman is a business and executive coach and founder of Consistent Business Growth. Questions or comments about this piece? Email him directly at wayne@cbgrowth-gfm.com.

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  • Next up: Why You Should Invest in Sales Training

    Why You Should Invest in Sales Training

    Proper sales training can mean the difference between keeping and losing a customer. Here’s what you should be looking for in a sales training program.

    “The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer.” Peter F. Drucker

    Leaders of companies of all sizes, and in all industries, look for new and innovative ways to drive growth and financial results. Developing the skills needed to execute assigned roles consistently ranks in the top five focus areas that impact results.

    Growing organizations invest in a range of targeted training for their people. Well-designed training programs can be measured in the following areas: desired skills needed to achieve goals, fill gaps in knowledge and skills, creative problem solving and actions to overcome the status quo.

    Any training needs to be aligned with and measured against the purpose of the business and the desired results. Performance gaps help leaders identify ongoing training priorities and return on the training investments.

    Evaluation of most business investment decisions starts with a baseline and the desired results: “Where we are today and where want to be in the future?” To help in this evaluation, let’s focus on sales training and the benefits of creating an ongoing training and development agenda that best supports your customers and aligns with why your business exists.

    The first step to help choose the best training for your team is to research the best training for your sales roles, your process and the industry you compete in. It is worth the time to research the best training others use in your industry. With that, consider the following:

    • What are your target customers and markets, such as B2B/Commercial, B2C/retail, large, small, international, etc.
    • What is your industry’s and customer’s requirements for technical expertise and skills
    • What is your customer experience and buying process: transactional or long term relationships, your sales process/pipeline.
    • What is your organization structure, leadership & management, roles, territories, etc.

    Next, you must address the current and desired skills and knowledge the sales team must have to execute the purpose of every business to include the following capabilities:

    • Know the context of your customer’s business, their business goals and why they buy and value a product or service.
    • Know how to separate your product or service solution from other options customers have researched and will choose from.
    • Be a trusted long term solution to include innovative ideas and solutions needed to support customer evolving needs and challenges.
    • Achieve success as an influential leader and manager of both transactional and long-term relationships with your customers.

    Lastly, the best way to judge the success of any training is to focus on the individual change in the desired skills and the increased performance in assigned roles. Measurement of sales training can include:

    • Increased customer retention and loyalty.
    • Increased new customer conversion.
    • Increased revenues and profits.
    • Reduced costs to serve and cost of sales.
    • Reduced sales cycles.
    • Faster rollout of new products and services.

    Remember, to execute the purpose of your business, your customers expect you to get better and your best competitors will force you to get better. If you design your sales training correctly, every hour and every dollar you invest in upgrading the skills of your sales team should produce improved and measurable results. You owe to your customer to get better at what you do! Wayne Bergman is a business and executive coach and founder of Consistent Business Growth. Questions or comments about this piece? Email him directly at wayne@cbgrowth-gfm.com.

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  • Next up: Why I Hate Elevator Speeches ... And So Should You

    Why I Hate Elevator Speeches ... And So Should You

    It’s time to kick your boring, distorted, drawn-out elevator speech to the curb. Learn how to elevate your pitch and then upgrade it to an even more powerful escalator speech.

    Have you ever been at a COSE event and heard an amateur networker deliver an ‘Elevator Speech from Hell?’ I know I have. Lots of times. You wanted to hit the emergency stop button and escape fast.

    So many elevator speeches are too long, too technical, too unfocused and too boring. In that brief opportunity to make a good first impression on strangers, those amateurs annoy and turn off people instead. That’s why I hate elevator speeches…and so should you.

    But, what should you do if your elevator speech approaches the ones from Hell? You’re going to be at lots of events where people will ask ‘What do you do?’ and you need an effective, efficient and engaging response to that question.

    First, Elevate Your Elevator Speech. Take it to a higher floor by making sure it’s:

    • Audience-Centric focused—aimed at the listeners with a high level of interest for them;

    • easy to understand—no confusing acronyms, terms or buzz words;

    • benefits rich—emphasizing who benefits rather than listing a string of facts or feature statements;

    • interactive—helping to create a dialogue rather than a monologue by encouraging and responding to questions;

    • concise—short enough to maintain interest and still accomplish its objective;

    • physically energetic—focused eye contact, appropriate gestures and a smile on your face;

    • vocally enthusiastic—delivered with strong volume and inflection, yet at a pace comfortable for the listeners;

    • confident—projecting that you believe in what you’re saying and want them to as well, but never sounding cocky; and

    • practiced—but not memorized, so it sounds spontaneous and natural.

    Next, Make Sure It’s a ‘3-E’ Elevator Speech.

    First: Effective—saying the right things to the right people for the right reasons.

    Second: Efficient—saying those right things in the right way, with vocal and physical energy.

    Third: Engaging—making the message compelling, interesting and memorable.

    Now, Make it an ‘Escalator Speech.’ Once you’ve elevated your speech and made the new and improved version work for you, take it to the top floor by converting it into an ‘Escalator Speech.’ Assume you’re going down on the escalator as someone passes by you going up on the other one. You only have a few seconds to communicate. So, your Escalator Speech is an even more concise version of your Elevator Speech.

    My Escalator Speech is ‘I empower business leaders to communicate confidently.’ Short, simple and likely to generate some questions when the other person turns around and follows me back down.

    I recently responded to a reader who liked my take on this topic and offered his own sample: ‘I’m a communication skills expert.’ While it’s short and concise, it’s still all about him, not them. And the term ‘expert’ has some ego-centric baggage connected with it, which can be a turnoff for some people.

    RELATED: Read more from Phil Stella.

    I asked him about the results someone achieves after working with him and suggested he build his statement around that. It could be ‘I empower (or ‘energize’—either verb is better than the wimpy ‘help’) people (but, better to define his target market here, such as ‘sales professionals,’ ‘entrepreneurs’ or ‘executives’) to communicate with more power (or ‘success’ or ‘impact,’ etc.). So, with some polish and practice, it became ‘I energize executives to present with more impact.’ Crafting something that concise is a lot of work, I admit, but it’s well worth the time and effort if you want to make it to the top floor.

    So, while I still hate typically lame Elevator Speeches, I do love concise and interesting Escalator Speeches…and so should you.

    Phil Stella runs Effective Training & Communication, www.communicate-confidently.com,440-449-0356, and empowers business leaders to reduce the pain with workplace communication. A popular trainer and executive coach on writing, styles and sales presentations, he is also on the Cleveland faculty of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program.  

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  • Next up: Work Continues on the State Transportation Budget

    Work Continues on the State Transportation Budget

    Work continues on the state’s transportation budget–House Bill 62–since passage of a House and Senate version of the bill. The House version calls for a 10.7 cents per gallon gas tax, compared to the Governor’s original 18 cents proposal and appropriates $200 million over the biennium through federal flex funding for public transit. The Senate’s proposal reduces the gas tax proposal to 6 cents per gallon. It also funds public transit by increasing state general revenue funding from $6.5 million per year to $55 million per year. This would allow a higher amount of federal “flex” funding to be used for roads and bridges projects. It would also increase the state match transit authorities could leverage for competitive federal grants.

    House Bill 62 will be reconciled through a conference committee where the House and Senate leadership along with the Administration will work towards a final bill. GCP’s advocacy team, through efforts with the Fix Our Roads Coalition and the Ohio Metro Chambers Coalition, continues to advocate for strong investments in the state’s public transportation and infrastructure system. GCP calls for a balance between the House and Senate proposal for public transit to support the needs of rural and urban transit authorities. GCP is also advocating for a gas tax proposal that will appropriately fund current maintenance and safety needs as well as support major new construction projects. 

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