I always disclose say up front that I’m a process and planning oriented person. I believe firmly in creating goals and objectives before embarking on the execution phase. For me, the most important question when I’m putting together a plan for a sales organization, a salesperson or an entrepreneur, is exactly how will we achieve the goals of the business.
This article focuses on a concept I refer to as ‘Exactly how?’
Let’s start with an observation, and that is that companies and individuals accept the importance of setting goals. But while most understand the importance of goal setting (the where), they tend to leave the ‘how’ to chance. More specifically, they don’t have a detailed plan in place for getting to their desired end state.
When I work on the ‘how’ of something, I think of a couple levels. I consider the high level, conceptual aspects of the plan. That is to say the milestones, way points, or specific accomplishments that need to happen along the path. Then I look at the detail level required for execution such as what you might find in a step by step instruction book.
Using the concept of preparing a cake as an example, you start with a nice picture on the recipe and that’s your goal or concept. You also have a set of ingredients usually presented in the order of use. And finally, there is a set of instruction telling you exactly how to combine the ingredients what processes to use.
The Concept of ‘Exactly How’
Continuing with the cake metaphor, I find companies and individuals gravitate toward goals and ingredients but avoid thinking through the instructions. Often, they don’t even acknowledge the lack of a real plan and have a hard time distinguishing the difference or even understanding the importance of the ‘exactly how.’
I ask a lot of sales organizations this time of year what their sales plan for the coming 12 months is. I hear very specific goals and objectives such as revenue amounts, territory growth, perhaps even margin, but very little, if any, detail as to how they are going to get from there.
We’ve all heard that the definition of insanity is doing things the same way over and over again while expecting a different result. Therefore setting new goals and aggressive objectives for a better end state imply change which requires doing something different which, in turn, requires effort. I suggest that insanity is failing to understand or acknowledge that you must define the actual set of different activities if you want to change a set of expectations and achieve different results.
When presented with a different desired outcome, the very first question a CEO or manager should ask is, “What are we going to do differently?” What will we do more of, less of, faster, slower – specifically – to accomplish our desired result?”
Sadly, I see very little of this discipline in plan building.
Salespeople have goals. Each year their quota goes up and in most cases territories change as well. These changes in expectation are clearly articulated for them but when the conversation turns to the specifics of what must be done, the answer sounds something like: “Well, I’ll do more” or “Work harder.”
Unfortunately, that is not a plan.
‘Exactly How?’ Actually Matters
So why is ‘exactly how‘ important? The bottom line is an ability to articulate a ‘how’ is the means to improving efficiency and effectiveness. The purpose of any process is to have a consistent means of determining what is happening and provide visibility into what’s working, what’s not, where the inefficiencies are, where the problems and roadblocks are so that we can fix them.
Greater efficiency means “doing more of something,” so if you are going to say you’re going to work harder, make more calls or call on more customers, there needs to be a “how” behind that intent in order to accomplish it. Perhaps it will require working more hours in the day or decreasing call duration or organizing the work more efficiently.
By contrast, effectiveness refers to attainment of the desired result more often. When we define the ‘how’ and then measure the results of changes in the ‘exactly how,’ we determine which of those elements are contributing to efficiency, effectiveness, both or neither.
I’m continually perplexed by a couple of questions. Why is it that people don’t think about the ‘exactly how’ when developing business goals?” In contrast, they often appear to go to great lengths to avoid even thinking about it.
While I don’t have the answer to this question, I suspect it has little to do with intelligence or self-awareness. It really comes down to how certain people are wired.
I believe some folks have a sort of blind spot when it comes to linear ‘exact how’ systems thinking. On the other hand, I see to have this rare and incurable disease which causes me to obsess about the ‘exactly how’ – perhaps to the detriment of strategy or vision.
Three Examples of Exactly How to Achieve Business Goals
1) I once worked with an entrepreneur who showed me his sales process which included a sales process workflow, and it was really well thought out from lead capture to hand off to sales. Unfortunately, at the point in the process where the salesperson picked up the lead, there was simply a box that said “lead prospecting.” Of course I asked, “What happens in that box?” And he replied, “prospecting.” To which I asked again, “How does that work?” Exactly “How is the salesperson supposed to perform this function in order produce a qualified opportunity?” “What are the specific actions this salesperson will follow to achieve this?” He gave me a blank stare and said he had no idea. He’d never thought of it before.
2) I’m currently coaching a sales person who, with respect to prospecting, has a very clear idea of what he needs to accomplish. He understands where he is not meeting expectations as well as the outcomes he needs to improve. Unfortunately, he has no idea how to organize his time or efforts to begin to change the end result. I explained that getting more meetings will require more calls and making more calls will require additional time allocated for making those calls. While exceedingly helpful, this linear and logical thought process was completely foreign to him.
3) Someone I’ve known for a number of years who recently started his own business and is in the process of setting up partnerships to generate referrals. I asked him “How will this referral process work?” To which he answered, “I’ll have an initial meeting with that person.” “Wait a minute” I said. “You seem to be glossing over some important details.” “Will the referrals provide you with a contact name?” “How will they make the introduction?” “What specific activities will you perform to secure the meeting?” He seemed genuinely confused and wrestled to understand what I was talking about.
Hopefully this article gives you some food for thought as you plan business goals of your own. As you go about your business, try to make (or begin to make) a distinction between your aspirations (goals and objectives) and those things that must take place to attain those goals and objectives. Success doesn’t requires you plan exactly ‘how’ down to the smallest detail but it does require you define tangible steps (events, interactions, and work) along the path to your desired end state.
By Townsend Wardlaw