I’ve had the good fortune of working in a variety of industries, building scale into growing businesses and advising executives on strategic initiatives. Despite the variety of products, services, and customers, I’ve observed certain constants across all businesses that separate the elite performers from the average. Below are three of the most critical differentiators between high performers and the rest:
The first opportunity for companies to level up is at the beginning of their relationship with an employee - in the job description. If you log into any company website and look up a job description, you’re likely to see a general overview of the tasks someone will perform in the role. What job descriptions fail to do is explain what you are expected to achieve in the role, the measure of success, and within what time frame. Providing employees with clear expectations helps them understand how they’re performing and holds themselves accountable to a standard of excellence.
Accordingly to a study conducted by Gallup, of 550 organizations and 2.2 million employees, only half of employees strongly feel that they know exactly what is expected of them. Setting clear expectations for achievement across every role in your organization can eradicate the lack of clarity, purpose, and drive that plagues organizations. Remember to update these goals regularly (high performing companies do so quarterly) and pivot when you find that a goal is no longer worth pursuing.
Now that you’ve set specific, measurable, and time-bound goals for every person in your organization, it’s time to put your goals on display. By sharing company-wide, department-specific, and individuals goals, you not only reinforce a unified vision of achievement, but you also hold people accountable to what they said they were going to achieve.
Many companies have dashboards of Key Performance Indicators (KPI) and track this data in real time. Companies who display this data to their entire team and promote cross-team discussion help foster a collaborative environment. Transparency breaks down barriers between departments, promotes more creative solutions, and supports learning by failing. Not only do companies who promote experimentation and cross collaboration often exceed their initial goals, but they also benefit from reduced employee turnover.
Once you build your goal-setting muscle, it’s tempting to create a never-ending list of goals for each team and employee. However, you must resist the urge. Few people can masterfully prioritize answering the following two questions when presented with more than five options:
“What should I do next?”
“What should I focus on?”
To ensure that your team remains focused and has a framework for saying “no” to non-essential, non-goal related tasks, follow Warren Buffet’s 5/25 rule. Write down all 25 (or more, or less) goals. List them in order of priority. Keep the top five and focus on those until you have completely achieved them. Say no to anything that does not further the goals in front of you and teach your team how to do the same.
Few companies establish perfect clarity, transparency, and focus from the outset. It often takes a few cycles of goal setting to create a scalable, efficient system. Many organizations need time to introduce the idea of a dashboard and get a working model on display. And still more will go kicking and screaming when asked to drop numbers six and below on their priority list. Finding ways to imbed these into your company often and early will truly set you apart from the pack.