Monday, February 2, 2009

Missed by 7.38 Seconds - Leadership goal, or nice to have?

Have you ever wondered why some difficult goals are achieved and other easier ones not?

Every year I run in the Surf City Half Marathon. Every year I set a few basic goals. This year it was 1) finish with no injuries, 2) finish without walking, and 3) finish under 2 hours. The first two objectives went just fine. Unfortunately, I completed in 2:01:36 which was 96 seconds over the goal. Across a 13.1 mile course, I only needed to go 7.38 seconds faster per mile to have met this last objective. That seems pretty easy.

I’ve run the half marathon under two hours plenty of times in the past so why did I miss the goal this time. Simply put – the two hour milestone was really not a goal – it was a “nice to have.” “Wouldn’t it be cool if...” For this reason, the pre-race training was not desperation and achievement focused, but it was interest, health and fun oriented. I could have met the third “desire” if I really wanted it. As leaders, it made me wonder how we are presenting “goals” to our organizations. We’ve heard it said that organizations in deep trouble make the effort to change. The leaders must have communicated the desperation of that goal. The other teams can never seem to make that extra effort. I believe it is all in the goal communication and the ownership it creates.

Looking at your own teams, how have you moved goal setting and communication from a desired level of performance to a target the team needs to achieve?


Jordan said...

I thought I saw you out there running. Never fun to miss a "nice to have" but still good job on the aprox. 2 hour half.

Anonymous said...

Hi John. This reminds me of a book Eric had us read awhile back called 212: The Extra Degree by Sam Parker. ( The point of the book was one degree makes the difference between boiling and not boiling. The whole concept is about that little bit of extra effort makes the world of difference. Our challenge as leaders lies in engaging our teams so they are motivated to do the little extra things that mean the difference between average and stellar results.

Anonymous said...

This is a great topic supported by a fine story. Thank you for the post and congratulations on your run.

In my experience I've found that people respond best to increased pressure and expectation when you have first created an environment of stable dependability. When a team that works for you is used to an environment with a certain level of stress, whatever that level may be, they will most assuredly sense the shift if there is one. The key here however is the stability or consistency of that environment. The more consistent the stress level is, the more finely tuned your team will be to changes.

I find that by keeping my demeanor and reactions to a minimum stress level, always appearing confident, mostly relaxed in my environment, my people react in kind. As soon as a real stressor occurs, I often see my people proactively managing that before I even reach a level that requires my intervention. It's not perfect, it's not scientific but it works.


Anonymous said...

Well done on the marathon, John. Don't beat yourself up, there's always next year!

I think goal setting is quite arbitrary in a lot of organizations. "What did we do last year + x%" There is an art to goal setting and it is absolutely linked to strategy. A lot of businesses have no strategy (they think they have) which immediately puts them at a disadvantage. Its like setting off on an expedition without knowing where you started from.

Goal setting should be top-down and the appraisal system provides a vehicle to achieve this. Once again, a lot of organizations fail to cascade goals that identify dependencies.

Another area to explore is the relationship between quantity and quality. Quality drives quantity. Quality goals are less easy to formulate and measure, so they are overlooked.

Often there is no plan laid out in relation to achieving the goal. For example, 'finishing in under 2 hours' - What factors will determine the likelihood of this goal being achieved? Frequency and intensity of training; diet; rest; a pace-setter. Once we get into the detail of achieving the goal we can set sub-goals to support our efforts.

Communicating goals in tough times is a leadership challenge. Your chances of success improve if the leadership has been strong and purposeful before you reach tough times. Your people are likely to respond quickly and with more belief. The environment, the culture, clarity of purpose will all effect the way teams respond. One huge factor will be the level of involvement the team feels. They have to have a say in how the goal is going to be accomplished. If it is their route, there will be more commitment towards it.

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Anonymous said...

Goal setting from the top is destructive and inimical to achieving the most important goal, that of unleashing every employee's full potential of creativity, innovation, productivity, motivation, and commitment.

The top-down command and control approach to managing people demeans, disrespects, demotivates and demoralizes employees. Authority is not the problem, but misuse of authority as in top-down is a big problem. Its opposite has the opposite effect and creates a workforce that blows away competitors and literally loves to come to work.

Best regards, Ben

Anonymous said...

I'd very much echo what Alex has said. In my own blog, just before Christmas, I did a piece on the Myth of Positive Stress ( and the conclusion was:
"So, if you want your people to be optimal performers (especially in times of economic uncertainty) the answer is NOT to spell out the severity of the current world, your dependence on them to exceed their previous levels of performance, or to offer ongoing employment or financial bonuses based on this. Yes, be open and honest, but also help them to test the reality of the tales of doom and despair (and do so yourself), help them to explore their options and understand the choices THEY can make. Buffer and protect people, don't expose them to further fear. If there was a single service that the news media could perform right now, it would be to take a more responsible and balanced approach rather than adopting scare tactics and sensationalist headlines. The less people live in fear the more they will be able to achieve."

All the best, Graham.

Anonymous said...

I work with independent business owners and but I still need to 'convince' them to acheive the company goals. Reviewing past acheivements helps as it shows them what they had accomplish. Its like setting a benchmark for them. If they have done it in the past, then there is no reason not be able to do it again or even exceed it. Then by discussing what is possible in the future using the past acheivement as your starting makes them focus on growing rather than on the difficulty of achieveing the goals. Using this process, I have been able to coax out above average performance (as compared to overall company performance) from my group in the last 4 years.

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Anonymous said...

John - I suspect if you plotted your half-marathon times in a process behaviour chart you'd find that all the variation was due to common causes - some will be down to you (training, diet, speed on the day), others to the environment (temperature, road condition - gradient etc, other competitors spurring you on). Add to the list as many variables as you think could have been relevant! It's a complex scenario.

You are at risk of responding to this one event as if it is a special cause, which I'm pretty sure it's not. As others have said, don't beat yourself up!

Of course, the way we analyse data in our organisations is often like this - and it causes untold damage. If anyone reading this is unfamiliar with this concept, get a copy of Donald J Wheeler's book "Understanding Variation, the Key to Managing Chaos" (SPC Press)

Anonymous said...

Many of us have initiative fatigue. We are constantly being asked to innovate processes, procedures, products, etc; It seems that the goal isn't a fixed mark like a finish line but an ever moving mark which is discouraging so rather than embracing the "desperation" and owning it, we regulate it and plan it out just like any other change initiative.

You have to be skilled in prioritizing the "desperation." We get distracted from the really important things by the many, little, seemingly important things. We need to goal set the big stuff and drop the time wasters; not just push them out to tomorrow or next week.

The Pareto Principle says that 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people. That principle works for goals too. 80% of your success (however you define that) will come from 20% of your goals. Identify that 20% and drop the other 80.

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Anonymous said...

The question I guess is the goal made in integrity or is it made as a nice to have if I get around to it. Do you know if you did all you can to make it happen and came up short or are you playing it safe? If you can say your playing full out then its a goal if not then its just a nice to have.

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