Facing the Truth About Goals

May 1, 2010

Today I asked Steve Roberts to be our guest blogger.

About Steve

Steve Roberts was born in Greenville, Ohio, the son of a small-town golf pro and a mom who managed the golf pro shop. The small family lived in the other half of the pro-shop building. Later the family grew to four children as they moved around Ohio in search of more financially rewarding work for Dad. Finally settling in Lima, Ohio, Steve’s parents taught the four kids by the rule of wise sayings: “If you do that again, I’m going to knock you into the middle of next week,” and “Hard work is good for you. It clears out the pores.”

Steve worked his way through college earning a BS degree and an MBA. After the Army, Steve and his new bride, Jane, moved to the Detroit area to work for Ford Motor Company. Steve worked in the auto industry in Detroit and Europe for 35 years. Jane and Steve live in Dearborn, Michigan where they raised four children and now chase after 11 grandchildren. He has been a management consultant with SCORE for several years. 

The inspiration for his work is to attempt to write compelling stories, usually based on true events, which will entertain and inform. As a storyteller, Steve says the idea is to attract the reader to fictional stories with backdrops such as the coal mining industry, the auto industry, circuses, or surviving hardship, which the reader might not pick up if the stories were written as a non-fictional book.

Coincidently completing the circle back to his roots, Steve and partners built a golf course near Jackson, Michigan in the late 1990’s and Steve worked part time at the course for two years.

Finding they are far out of step with what is required to succeed, many businesses decide to incrementalize their way to competitiveness. “Our goal this year is to cut cost by 5% and raise revenue by 6%,” the boss declares. He instructs the CFO to deduct 5% from the budgets of all cost centers and add 6% to the revenue-generating centers.

Each department distributes the improvement goals to the sections and the employees. The result is that the goals and the desperate need for substantial improvement in the business get muted in the maze and mirrors of annual objectives. Projects and processes designed to meet the year’s objectives consist of merely squeezing a little more juice out of the lemon. If this level of thinking makes the company profitable, it is the exception in today’s global market.

Paraphrasing Socrates, the problem is not that we set our goals too high and miss them; rather, we set them too low and meet them. As a business consultant, I advise the owners and leaders of marginal businesses that goals should be set at the level needed to make the company a success rather than at the historically “doable” levels. Benchmarking the successful competition is an effective way to determine the size and metrics of the task. I once worked with a company that found their overseas competitor could manufacture, ship, and sell their product in the U.S. at a price lower than the domestic company’s manufacturing costs. The domestic company set their new goals at the performance levels required for success. As a result, new thinking flowed through every door, hallway, and factory of the company. Fear is a great motivator.

Setting very aggressive goals sometimes means objectives will be stated in terms of a 60, 70 or 80% improvement in selected elements of the operation. After the employees move past the “shock-and-mad” zone and the “management-must-be-nuts” mentality, this level of challenge results in:

  • a simplified, single plan with management and every employee working toward one goal aimed at company survival and success
  • new thinking, knocking down sacred cows, and (the overworked term) shifting one’s paradigms
  • cooperation between departments, sections, and people never able to synergize before

With the company’s leadership and all employees dedicated to the plan, a new culture emerges and the previously unthinkable gets seriously considered and the seemingly impossible gets done.

–Steve Roberts

Visit steverroberts.com for the author’s writings on a variety of non-business subjects.

Reach your next peak

We help leaders expand the change they want to see in their teams, organizations, and the wider world.