Leadership starts with defining priorities, but doesn't stop there. In prior columns, I've talked about the gap between setting a goal and achieving it. To close the execution gap, organizations must practice four disciplines.
by Site Staff
March 27, 2004
- Focus on the wildly important goal.
- Create a compelling scoreboard.
- Translate lofty goals into action.
- Hold everyone accountable all of the time.
In this column, I will explain the first discipline.
There’s a key principle that many fail to understand, hampering their ability to perform. According to science writer Nigel Calder (“The Mind of Man”), one of the most self-evident characteristics of the conscious mind is that the mind attends to one thing at a time. A person wearing spectacles with one green and one red lens will see either green or red, but never some grayish combination of the two.
Suppose you have an 80 percent chance of achieving a particular goal with excellence. Add a second goal to that first goal, and your chances of achieving both drop to 64 percent. Keep adding goals, and the probability of achieving them plunges steeply. Juggle five goals at once, and you have only a 33 percent chance of getting excellent results.
How vital it is, then, to focus diligently and intensely on only a few crucial goals. While many of our work goals are important, only a few qualify as wildly important. A wildly important goal carries serious consequences. Failure to achieve this goal renders other achievements relatively inconsequential.
Consider the situation of the air traffic controller. At any moment, hundreds of airplanes are in the air, and all of them are important. But the controller cannot focus on all of them at once. Her job is to land them one at a time, and to do so flawlessly. Every organization is in a similar position. Few can afford the luxury of divided attention; some goals simply must be landed.
How do we know which goals are wildly important? The first step in achieving the crucial goal is to clearly define it. Which goals bring the most leverage in terms of strategic, stakeholder and economic priorities? All potential goals should pass through these three screens.
Organizational strategy is crippled unless it takes the form of a few vital goals that everyone understands. Everyone in the organization should be able to define how the goal:
- Directly supports the organization’s mission.
- Leverages core competencies.
- Increases market strength.
- Increases competitive advantage.
Additionally, a goal cannot be wildly important unless it is the most consequential thing you can do to advance your strategy.
What are the most important things you should do to fulfill the needs of your stakeholders? Your answers constitute wildly important goals. Customers, employees, suppliers and investors all have a stake in these goals. Therefore, everyone should be able to describe how the key goals:
- Increase customer loyalty.
- Ignite the passion and energy of your people.
- Favorably impact suppliers, business partners and investors.
For a business, a goal cannot be wildly important unless it is crucial to the economics of the firm. Everyone in the organization should be able to clearly define how the goal improves:
- Revenue growth.
- Cost reduction.
- Cash flow.
Wildly important goals bring the greatest payback. Of all your potential goals, which few would bring you the most significant economic return?
Putting the goals through the strategic, stakeholder and economic screens positions a clear “why”behind the “what” of the goal.
The most vital work of the leader and of the fully engaged team is to define the wildly important goals to define those goals so clearly and to make the rationale so plain that no one misses their significance. It is to distinguish the wildly important from the merely important and to focus intensely on it. You can’t afford to waste precious time and effort on anything less.
Stephen R. Covey, Ph.D., is co-founder and vice chairman of FranklinCovey, a leading global professional services firm. Stephen is also the author of the best-selling The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.E-mail Stephen at firstname.lastname@example.org.