In Startups, Uncategorized

Everyone seems to have a few favorite New Year’s resolutions. The same ones show up on your list every year. It’s like your own personal greatest hits. I guess it’s human nature to optimistically set resolutions every January but fall short by the end of the month or even sooner.

Unfortunately, when it comes to running a company and especially a resource constrained startup or division of a larger organization, if you set annual objectives and fall short you may not be around for too long. Markets may get away from you, competition may eat you up, or essential cash could be wasted.

Usually one of the first questions I ask when I meet a startup company CEO is; “What are your top five goals?”  Then I ask each of the team members and most of the time their answers are different. Scary…

We all know the downside of frantic quarter to quarter short term bottom line only management tactics but using goals that are years away can be just as fatal. Especially in a technology based business where a year can be a lifetime. Things change quickly and that change can make your goals obsolete quicker than you might expect. What good is chasing the wrong goals?

In my experience the sweet spot for goal setting is one year… Annual goals with monthly reviews and modifications if needed can make a big difference for your organization. It’s all about focus and relentless pursuit of what is most important for your organization.

So be smart and setup your twelve-month goals right now. Work with your team to set five clear goals that everyone shares. Try for a clear vision of what success will look like on December 31, 2017. Without that you will just wander through a labyrinth in the dark for the next twelve months. Without clear goals your ultimate success will be more dependent on luck than design.

It’s always a good thing when everyone in your organization has a clear idea on the company’s specific goals for the year. Every team member should be able to recite those five goals and know precisely how every minute of their day is contributing to the achievement of those essential goals.  Anything else is just a waste of time, talent, money, and other resources.

Once you have your five key goals agreed on by your team, break them down into the specific tasks needed to achieve those goals. Assign staff responsibility for each task along with a specific due date. If you are the President, CEO, or manager of the division it is important that you do not take direct responsibility for any of the tasks on the list. You need to focus on delegating those tasks to someone on your team. It is the only way you can maintain your objectivity and be available to troubleshoot when things go sideways.  And they always go sideways. It’s called delegation and you need to do it.

Don’t try to control the world… By this I mean there are many forces outside your organization that you cannot control. Things like political winds out of Washington or your competitions advertising budget are not things you can control. Don’t worry about those forces but you must track and plan for the items that are within your control and change course if needed when outside factors impact your organization.

Where goals and their related tasks get derailed is when the manager does not realize precisely what type of resources are required to complete the task. This is when wishful thinking and unfounded optimism can be your worst enemy. Just because that great programmer you have worked with for the last five years is really smart does not mean he will have the time or expertise to get that new essential task completed. Unless that programmer has done the task or something very similar before, extra time, education, or training will be required to fill the programmers skill gap and get the task done. Planning otherwise is a recipe for frustration and failure.

You will need three things to prepare your company up for success in 2017 and a set of simple worksheets will help you take some risk out of your success roadmap. Here’s what the worksheets can do for you: (Note: You can download the worksheets by clicking HERE)

Worksheet 1 – 2017 Goals/Objectives Use this worksheet to precisely list the five Goals/Objectives for your organization. Each must have components or tasks (see next worksheet below) that can be measured. If you think you have more than five goals/Objectives for the year be sure you are not listing a task instead of a goal. You will list all the tasks needed to accomplish the goals in Worksheet 2.

If you and your team can only come up with three annual objectives look closer, maybe one of those three can be broken into smaller items.

It is essential that these goals be more general in nature and your entire team is part of the creation of these five goals.. Plan a few hours together to create the list. If more than five goals emerge then prioritize the goals to identify the top five. If team members suggest ideas that are really tasks hold those for “Worksheet 2 – Tasks Details” table and determine which goal they are related to. An example might be something like, “Sign up twelve new corporate customers”. This may look like a goal but it is a task. The goal this task belongs to would be something like, “Double Revenues This Year.” A goal is more general while the task is the essential item to complete to achieve the goal. It is how you will achieve the goal.

Question: Does everyone in the organization need to know the five goals even it a goal is not their responsibility or in their area of expertise? Answer: Yes. It will help your organization function better if everyone knows, believes in, and can recite the five goals.

Worksheet 2 – Task Details This worksheet breaks down each goal into the actual executable tasks required to get closer to achieving the goal.

The column headings are:

# – Each task should be numbered. This will help keep track of tasks and you will use this to note tasks that are dependent on other tasks.

Dep. # – This stands for Dependent Task Number. You will enter the task numbers here for the task or tasks that need to be completed before this task can be started. Example: If Task #12 is “Hire and train a west coast marketing/sales manager” and Task #22 is “Close three new contracts with west coast clients” then Task #22 cannot be started until Task 12 is completed.

Task Description – What is the task?

Goal – Which of your five goals will this help to achieve?

Measurable – How will you know if the task has been achieved? How will you measure success? Things like a number of new customers, number of new hires, number of new features for your service, etc…

Due date – When do you need the task completed?

Skill/Other resource required – This is where you list the specific skill required or resources needed to complete the task. A resource may be something like a specific consultant. Example: For Task #12 “Hire a west coast marketing/sales manager” you may need to use an outside recruiter.  List that recruiter here.

Who is responsible for the task – Who owns this task? This must always ultimately be one person in your organization.  Even though an outside consultant may be doing the task someone in your organization needs to be responsible for that task and manage the outside resource.

Question: If a task is not contributing to one of your five goals then why is it on the list?  Answer: Take it off this list. It is a waste of time and resources.

Worksheet 3  – Staff/Outside Consultant Inventory Do you have the staff with the proper skills or access to outside consultants to actualy complete the task?  This is usually the breakdown when it comes to your controllable items. You know the goal and you can list the tasks needed to achieve that goal but you just don’t have the right person or outside resource available to complete the task. It’s better to know this in January instead of twelve months later when the task is not completed and the goal is just a unachievable memory.

Determine exactly what you need upfront so you can hire the right person to complete the task or get a current employee the training they need or identify and contract with an outside consultant.

The columns in this worksheet are:

Name – The name of the employee, consultant, or other resource.

Title – Title of the employee, consultant, or other resource.

Responsibilities – The current defined responsibilities for the employee, consultant, or other resource.

Skills – A list of skills this employee, consultant, or other resource currently has. Be sure you list actual demonstrable skills and not skills you wish they had.  It won’t help to assign the west coast marketing/sales tasks to a technical person who has never done this function. Sure they might succeed but then you are depending on luck.

Five Top Accomplishments – These will help you determine if the skills listed are actual skills or skills you wish they had. For example, if these top five accomplishments are all technical achievements and you are going to need this person to complete a business development task then you have just identified a skill gap. We will deal with skill gaps later in another column in this worksheet.

One Failure – List one failure this person has had. How does it relate to the task on this line? It’s not so bad if they have failed in the past. Failure can be the best teacher. But if they keep failing then maybe it’s time to reconsider if this person is matched to the task.

Skills needed to complete assigned tasks and achieve 2017 objectives – A list of the skills needed by this person to accomplish the tasks they have been assigned.

Skill Gap – What skills does this person this person not currently possess that they will need to acquire to complete their assigned tasks.

How skills will be acquired – How will the person acquire the skills they need to complete their assigned tasks?  Will they read a book, take a class, work with a mentor or consultant?

Comments – Are there any other considerations for this person or resource that may affect their ability to complete the tasks they have been assigned?   Are they going to night school which will limit overtime hours? Are they located many time zones away?  What is their excitement level about the task? Do they want to do it?

You might get to the end of the “Staff/Outside Consultant Inventory” worksheet and discover you have the wrong staff to complete the tasks you need to achieve your 2017 goals. This is not unusual. You need to get the resources you need or change your goals. It’s better to know this in January instead of December when you are facing some sort of critical organization breakdown. A common mistake managers make is setting goals based on the current team’s expertise and interests   instead of based on the actual real world requirements or market forces. This could be a organization killing strategy. If you are not moving your organization forward by addressing the actual real-world opportunities, needs, and requirements (customer focused) you are counting on luck for the success of your organization.

By using these three planning worksheets that detail the high level annual goals, breaking the goals down into the tasks required to achieve those goals, then doing a resource/staff inventory you will be designing your organization to achieve the goals you have determined are required for success.

This may seem like a lot of work but that’s a small price for the survival or hopefully a more prosperous company by the end of 2017.

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