With the 2008 Summer Olympics in full swing, this issue of The Harper report discusses the parallels between athletic performance and business performance. What separates average companies from those that are superstars?
Focus On Achieving Sustainable Long-Term Performance Objectives
Superstar athletes and teams know they can’t burn out after one event. They increase their value by setting long-term performance objectives to achieve multiple medals over a number of events. Likewise in business, the focus on achieving sustainable long-term performance increases your company’s value.
It’s important to differentiate between the characteristics of short-term goals and long-term performance objectives. While short-term goals are SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistically high, time-deadline stated), long-term performance objectives are BOLD™:
- Broad: Developing broad objectives toward long-term performance enables your organization to stay nimble and sustain progress, even as you’re responding to turbulent conditions. Example: Your short-term goal of doing business specifically in China in 2008 may not be achievable, but if your long-term performance objective is broadly to “Penetrate the Asian market,” it’s more likely that you’ll find other opportunities to succeed.
- Organization-wide: Long-term performance objectives (such as the one above) encompass your entire organization. They are not limited to specific areas such as sales or manufacturing. Every function in your organization must work together effectively and efficiently in order to sustain progress.
- Leader-driven: Increasingly, boards and executives are co-developing strategies. It’s essential that all top-level leadership be aligned regarding objectives, expectations, and the critical issues that must be addressed in order to successfully execute the strategy.
- Dream-based: Long-term performance objectives are a reach, however, they ground your company by serving as a concrete anchor for strategic decisions. As an example, the Chairman of a two-year-old community bank told me that his executive team has made strategic decisions based upon long-term performance objectives that extend over a ten-year time frame.
Companies that achieve superstar status have leaders who can switch back and forth between being visionary, setting BOLD™ long-term performance objectives, as well as being tactical, using SMART short-term goals to support them along the way.
Bounce Back from Setbacks
There are numerous stories about athletes who have overcome enormous odds over time to achieve their dreams. Likewise, organizations must develop their resiliency in order to overcome obstacles and achieve long-term performance objectives. A few ways to do this include
- Learn from the entire experience: Even when setbacks occur, it’s important to take a balanced approach and not “throw the baby out with the bathwater.” Look at what is working well, as well as where there is room for improvement.
- Reward innovation: Once areas for improvement are pinpointed, encourage everyone to think about the challenge in new ways. Brainstorm around the question “What can we do differently or better to achieve our long-term performance objective?”
- Make incremental adjustments: Implement a few changes well, rather than doing too much too fast. This approach will provide your organization with a greater focus and productivity while enabling you to minimize risks from upheavals.
Setbacks are inevitable. When you have a process in place to deal with them, your organization will spend less time “on the mat” and more time accelerating progress toward your long-term objectives.
Invest in Training
Just as Olympic athletes are continuously training to stay in top shape, so must companies invest in training in order to achieve high-performance results on a sustained basis. Before making the investment, however, it’s critical to know which issues will be helped by training, and which ones are better addressed through other approaches.
Especially in a turbulent economy, there are many good reasons to invest in training. Employees need up-to-date knowledge, skills, and abilities so they can work together more effectively and efficiently, better address customer needs, and comply with regulatory requirements. However, training alone is not sufficient to solve performance problems caused by inadequate staffing and resources, outdated policies and procedures, and other cultural issues.
The best way to maximize the return on your training investment:
- Identify performance objectives: Where are the gaps between the results that should be happening and what is currently happening? What do employees need to do differently or better to achieve the performance your company needs? Before making the decision to invest in training, it’s essential to go beyond what you observe happening and uncover assumptions regarding possible underlying reasons for performance gaps. Even when the cause seems obvious, there’s frequently more to the story.
- Select appropriate training: Like every other investment you make, the type of training you select must be suited to your organization’s unique needs. One size does not fit all. Depending upon the situation, value is determined by a combination of factors including timing, scope, cultural fit, learners’ style, and expertise required.
- Reinforce: It’s essential to give employees a chance to regularly practice new behaviors back on the job, allowing for mistakes at first. Setting a series of milestones and checkpoints for evaluating progress enables everyone to objectively measure success. The more opportunities employees have to use their new knowledge, skills, and abilities, the more effective they will become, leading to a higher return on your training investment.
Keeping your organization in top shape is a process – not an event. Making appropriate investments in training can make the difference between average performance and superstar status in this highly competitive business environment.