How to Add Wisdom to Your Company’s Strategy

leverage, key performance indicatorsIf your company is like most, you set goals then wait to see what happens — as if merely stating the goal will bring it about.

In reality, for goals to make a real difference to your company, you need to pay more attention than that. You must pay attention to what you and your employees will do differently to move an ambitious goal forward. And this often requires infusing some wisdom into the process – wisdom that comes from using data that drives and measures progress toward a goal.

How do you gain the wisdom to get the results you want? You get it from past experience and intentional trial and error now. It is wisdom, rooted in the experimentation of science in the form of “independent variables” and “dependent variables”.

“We are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.” – E.O. Wilson, entomologist

In science, an “independent variable” is a condition or value you change to see what effect it has on something else. That “something else” meant to be impacted is the “dependent variable”.

Think of a science fair and the ubiquitous experiments involving growing plants. Usually, kids varied one of many growing conditions to see what would support or inhibit plant growth. Some of the things they would vary included amounts of sunlight, amount of water, etc. Each condition changed was an “independent variable”. Plant growth is the “dependent variable” because it would depend (hypothetically) on what was done with the chosen independent variable.

A straightforward business example would be a desire to decrease production time for a widget by minimizing manufacturing downtime to while maintaining current quality. Manufacturing downtime is the independent variable and production time is the dependent variable.

Applied to your company goals, independent variables are called Key Performance Indicators (KPI) or “lead measures”. Thus, independent variables are to a hypothesis as KPIs are to strategic goals. They are the key to gaining real wisdom around what will allow your company to successfully achieve its goals.

To gain such wisdom regarding your goals, run the experiment by simply restating your goal in the form of a question to more easily identify relevant KPIs. For example, if the goal is to decrease production time by 10% by December 31, restate it as a question. “How can we decrease production time by 10%, by December 31, without sacrificing quality?” The answers to your business question will point you in the direction of possible KPIs. Then, you can vet further for potential impact and your ability to control them.

Unfortunately, many leaders fall short when it comes to gaining wisdom. They don’t develop and track KPIs in an intentional and deliberate way. Instead, many leave it to chance that employees will make the adjustments needed to get to the company goal. Or if they do identify the KPIs, they don’t work with their teams to design “experiments” to prove or disprove that the KPIs are affecting the goal.

How are you adding wisdom that informs your company’s strategy? Which goals and related KPIs is your team focusing on now? How are you showing a correlation or causation (or lack thereof) between those KPIs and the goal?
WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can. Simply include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with business leaders who want to increase productivity and retention by shifting their focus from daily tactical work to the strategic work required to move their companies forward. Learn more about her services at:

team work experiment

Create Better Focus by Reframing Your Approach to Achieving Goals

Based on a 2011 McKinsey study, only 10% of executives were “very satisfied” with how they spend their time. Also, 50% of executives were not allocating their work time on activities tied to company goals. Why weren’t these executives focused on the very goals they were setting for their companies? Are goals intimidating, bringing up fears of failure or success.

Not sure but maybe the way most of us approach goals needs reframing.

What if you saw those same goals more like hypotheses that allow you to set up experiments? When you approach company goals as experimenting, it seems to create a sense of taking action, giving permission to fail, and learning from mistakes. Additionally, framing your approach as experiments gives permission to take time to identify and control variables, so that you more intentionally focus your efforts. It is that focus that is key to moving your company goals forward.

So, here are some thoughts on how to do that:

1. What control do the employees in your area of responsibility have toward achieving the hypothesis / goal?

Think about (a) what’s within your employees’ control as far as achieving the goal and (2) to what degree doing those things will have an impact. Once you ferret out these variables, you and your employees can decide with which variables to experiment. Then, it’s a matter of designing work experiments and measuring the results. Implicit in this is also the ability to change the variables and the approach if desired results don’t happen.

2. Which work activities for YOUR role are “high-value” because they directly affect the chosen variables and experiments?

Based on the experiments you and your employees have selected, determine ways you can ensure the experiments occur, the variables are tracked, and results are interpreted for successful outcomes and possible adjustments. Maybe there are things you already do. Maybe they are things you should start doing. Either way, these activities have “high-value” for your leadership role. And you don’t have to go overboard re-tooling your weekly calendar: using the 80/20 Pareto Principle, you should consider spending only about 20% of your working time on them.

Include meetings, reviewing data, celebrating success, following up with direct reports, mentoring your employees, your own professional development, and activities that build and nurture relationships that are important for achieving the goal.

3. Commit to making goal activities happen.

One of the best ways to make sure you do your “high-value” work activities is to commit to them by scheduling them on your calendar with the right frequency and duration. Once they are on your calendar, you have carved out space to dedicate to them. What do you do if something else comes along for a particular time slot? You have to decide what’s more important or can be done at a different time. If you displace a scheduled high-value activity, make sure to re-schedule it or have it covered by someone else.

If goals are important enough to set, they are important enough to work towards. Make it more palatable to work towards goals by changing your mindset about them, then focus on what you can do to make them happen, and keep the commitments you make.

5 Leadership Qualities Critical to Achieving Company Goals

goal, executionWouldn’t it be great if you could simply share your latest company goals with employees and rest assured they would automatically achieve them without further ado?

Most of the time that doesn’t happen, though. Yes, your leadership does come in handy. But you have to know what you must bring to the table to catalyze employees to achieve those company goals. In fact, you must draw on 5 qualities to move your company goals forward:

1. Clear Intention

Clear intention is the ability to hone in on what you are really seeking to accomplish. By doing so, you create an unambiguous target for your company to shoot for. You can use the SMART Goals technique or some other goal-setting methodology. In any case, it’s your job as leader to ensure the goal is distinctive and well-defined. This allows anyone to easily recognize when the goal has been achieved.

2. Clear Communication

Research shows that 60% of employees don’t know about their companies’ strategic plan, including current goals. To counter this, once a goal is set, it’s your leadership responsibility to ensure it is disseminated and discussed throughout the company, so everyone can contribute to achieving it. Goals don’t achieve themselves; employees must act to make them come to fruition. So, make sure all employees know current goals and progress made along the way. Additionally, work with department heads to translate company-wide goals into meaningful and related sub-goals for each company area.

3. Inclusion

The employees who do the work know a lot about what works and what doesn’t. That’s why it’s imperative to be inclusive. Inclusion means you readily and willingly tap a variety of perspectives regarding what it will take to achieve the goal, including the employees who perform the work. When you tap into the perspectives of direct reports, they can suggest which work activities to leverage to affect the desired goal outcomes.

4. Unwavering Focus

It is said, “What is expected must be inspected.” In other words, keep the goal and related activities in front of employees. Make sure you do so with your direct reports, so this focus cascades to the front lines in your area of responsibility. You might hold a short weekly meeting focused on goal-related work activities and projects to check progress. Regularly display and discuss graphs tracking progress of related activities, sub-goals, and the overall goal. Whatever you do, keep employees focused on what they must do to achieve the goal and the progress being made. This allows adjustments to be made timely, as needed.

5. Recognition & Appreciation

If you’re like me you are probably used to a “no news is good news” approach in life. What we’ve learned, however, is that acknowledgement and appreciation go a long way with employees. Remember to recognize and appreciate individual effort, contributions, and progress toward sub-goals and the overall goal to keep employees engaged in the effort. Employees need to know you see their efforts.

If you’re like most leaders, you are distracted by a thousand different things that vie for your attention. It’s good to remember the simple leadership qualities that you must demonstrate to achieve your company goals. An intentional, inclusive focus on your goals, bolstered by clear communication and recognition of effort and progress is the basic job of any leader.