Forget “Gonna” New Year’s Resolutions
Remember all those New Year’s resolutions you made a short time ago, such as “I’m gonna go to the gym and work out every day,” “I’m gonna spend more time at home with my family and less time at work” and “I’m gonna try harder to build relationships with key customers.” Well, it’s been about a month . . . how are those resolutions working for you?
I’m asking because it seems like the resolution/unkept resolution cycle goes like this: I’m gonna go to the gym and work out every day. But wait! That means I’m gonna need to buy new shoes to wear to the gym. When am I gonna find time to go shopping? Ugh! Shopping for athletic shoes is exhausting. I can’t decide if I’m gonna get neon yellow Nike Air Maxes or infrared Adidas Springblades. Too many choices. Plus more time at the gym is gonna conflict with my second resolution to spend more time at home with my family. And if I’m gonna spend more time at home, the “honey do” list is gonna grow! On the other hand, if I keep busy at work, they know I’m not gonna have time for all those chores I hate to do and eventually will stop asking me to clean out the gutters, paint the bedroom and fix the leaky toilet. And what about building my relationships with key customers? That’s gonna conflict with my other two resolutions and besides, I really hate schmoozing customers. . . .
Sound familiar? Maybe in my attempt at humor it’s a bit exaggerated, but hopefully the question prompts you to think about whether your “I’m gonna” resolutions are ambitions that you really want to pursue. Perhaps they are just goals that you think you should have. Plus, there are obstacles to overcome in order to achieve them, and perhaps little motivation to overcome these obstacles.
The same goes for resolutions business leaders make. Many of us have private resolutions for our organizations that we hesitate to say out loud because of the obstacles. For instance, maybe your strategic planning process concluded that your organization should be able to grow revenue by 10 percent this year. Privately, you believe that if that one key account really took off with a bit more effort from that certain pain-in-the-rear person on your executive team, 20 percent growth could happen. Or maybe it’s occurred to you that you should make an acquisition or form a strategic partnership to really grow the business big-time, but the political conflicts with your board and management to make it happen are such that you don’t have the energy to pursue it.
As an advisor to many public, private and nonprofit boards, large and small, I know about all the “I’m gonna” resolutions that business leaders make with themselves—and never keep. I refer to these folks as “Gonna Guys.” I have watched many CEOs and senior management teams struggle over a lengthy list of action plans or budgets for their new calendar or fiscal year, but if asked about the prospects for achievement, they know that these were not realistic.
I recall one company that had a historical revenue growth of 5 percent per year and a gross margin of 50 percent. When it did its planning for the new year, it planned a 10 percent increase in revenue and gross profit margin of 60 percent. When asked how they intended to grow revenue and increase gross margin, executives said, “It will come from increased sales and the scale that will result from those sales.” But when I reviewed the sales and marketing budget, I found no increase in spending from the current year. They finally agreed that they would like to hit those goals, but didn’t have a practical path for getting there.
The lesson I’ve learned over the years is that “gonna” goals established by the Gonna Guys usually don’t get accomplished. The motivation to overcome obstacles just isn’t there. The resolutions that get accomplished are those made within the context of a clear vision of the future of the organization.
So take some time to contemplate and envision your organization in the future and write a vision statement. Different from a mission statement, which describes what business you are in and what products/services you offer, a vision statement provides a picture of what could be—some future state of the organization that does not exist today. It is what you aspire to become, a catalyst for change and a tool for aligning the organization’s activities.
Vision statements are your chance to aim high. Envision the perfect state of the organization—which may or may not ever be achieved; as the saying goes, if you reach for the stars you won’t come up with a handful of mud! And even if the vision of the future isn’t ever completed, the journey to get where you’re going will be a straighter line. Instead of reacting to unrealistic “I’m gonna” goals, daily decisions about priorities become easier when they are aligned with a big-picture vision statement. Plus, the motivation to charge through those obstacles in your way is much stronger.
Keep reminding your board, management, employees, investors, creditors and suppliers of your vision, throughout the year. A year from now, look back and see just how far you’ve all progressed on that journey. I’ll bet it is a lot further than you thought it was gonna be . . . and a lot more fun than doing sit-ups in the gym.
Mark W. Sheffert (firstname.lastname@example.org) is founder, chairman and CEO of Manchester Companies, Inc., a Minneapolis-based performance improvement, board governance, and litigation advisory firm.