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Written by: Steve Lemmex, PMP, and Merri Lemmex, PMP

Imagine this scenario: you’ve invested in the annual planning meeting to determine your corporate direction for the year. You’ve articulated the message to your staff – hey, you’ve even printed up posters that are prominently displayed around your facilities. But, will you ever see the results of your efforts demonstrated in your staff’s performance? Probably not, unless you go the extra mile and ensure that you link the strategy to their efforts.

But, how do you do that?

First things first – get your staff - all of them - involved in the setting of the corporate strategy.

You might think that this is a job only for your senior executives, but involving your staff in setting corporate strategy will not only provide you with valuable information from your front line, it will also gain you buy-in for the strategy you end up adopting.

Department by department, poll your staff for their ideas of how your organization should proceed in the coming year. You may need to provide them with the details of your longer term strategy so they can see the strategic goals for the 3-, 5-, and 10-year periods. Ensure that every member of the staff provides feedback. Consider the use of questionnaires, interviews, group meetings, one-on-one sessions – whatever works for your organization.

Once you have received the feedback from your staff, boil it down into common themes such as increasing revenue, reducing rework, finding new markets, rebranding, investment in training, etc. Consolidate these ideas into 15-20 great ideas from each department. Your supervisors and managers can help you out here by voting for the top ideas.

Now, get your department heads together, consolidate your lists from each of the departments, and come up with the top 15-20 ideas for your entire organization. From that list, and vote again to select 3-7 major themes that will support your long-term corporate strategy.

Once this list is done, your organization has come up with their top ideas to achieve your strategic growth, or your Big 5 (or 6 or 7).

Time to print the posters.

Figure 1 - Sample Departmental Suggestions

Figure 1 - Sample Departmental Suggestions

But you’re not done yet. Just because you have great ideas that will advance your long-term corporate strategy, you now need to be sure that it will be achieved by each and every member of your staff. Time to work from the top, down.

Second step – determine how each department will incorporate the Big 5 into their day-to-day operations.

As soon as you have determined your Big 5, it is time to meet with your department heads and determine how they will be advancing each of these strategic goals. At this point, it is time to set revenue targets, quality ratios, achievement levels, or any other achievement metric for each of the Big 5, for the year, and then break them down into quarterly targets. You will probably need to discuss inter-departmental cooperation for some of these goals to be achieved. For example, a revenue target set by one department may only be achieved if another department has a product or service ready for release to consumers. Your department heads must be comfortable with the targets they set and the commitments they make to others as they will be judged, and perhaps receive bonuses on their ability to these targets.

Now, it’s time to work out the details on the individual staff member level. Each of your departments needs to work out a plan on how the strategic objectives will be met. Your staff must then be actively involved in planning how they intend to achieve these objectives. They should be working with you to set objectives on a quarterly basis. The specifics of the necessary inputs from other departments must be articulated here, as well as the timing of these inputs to ensure that departments can achieve their targets.

Figure 2 - Sample Flow of Objectives

Figure 2 - Sample Flow of Objectives

Once you have determined how the department will achieve its goals, it is necessary to meet with each individual to determine how they will contribute to these goals and to set their individual objectives.

Remember – setting objectives requires them to be SMART!
Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.

You now have your overall plan, your departments have their plan, and each individual contributor has his or her own plan to achieve the corporate objectives. How do you make sure that each individual contributor achieves their objectives, thereby advancing the corporate goals?

Third step – making the link from strategy to performance.

Companies can link strategy and performance in many ways. They may use a system of positive incentives, such as individual quarterly bonuses that are directly related to the achievement of specific goals. They may also use departmental targets which can be rewarded in a highly visible way, such as lunches, paid time off, or other perks for achievement are given. Or, perhaps performance is just linked to a specific objective set as part of the performance appraisal process where staff is judged on the achievement of their objectives, and merit increases reflect their success.

Whichever technique is used to encourage performance, it must be done consistently across the organization and on a regular basis. All departments must have the same process for reviewing the achievement of goals, and the reviews should be happening at the same time. You may have chosen a quarterly review of the targets, or perhaps you need to review them every month.

Ensure that reviews are done on a timely basis. At the end of each quarter, or whatever time interval you decide upon, meet with individual contributors to review their actions and results. Failing to do so in a timely manner will result may reflect a lack of commitment to your process. If one department does not follow up their objectives, it can show that department’s employees that they are not important. Other departments will depend on the achievement of goals corporate-wide, so having one department fall short will impact others.

Quarterly reviews should roll up. Once your individual contributors have provided their report on how they did, it is time to report those achievements during a departmental review. This should be done on a department-by-department basis – perhaps with your managers in a single meeting, presenting their achievements. The managers can provide feedback on whether all of their expectations from each other were met. Your department heads should be bonused, or at least judged on their performance reviews based on departmental achievements. These reviews should roll up until you have a corporate review. Share these results with your employees so they can keep their eye on the big picture and consider:

  • Are you on track for the year?
  • Do plans need to be altered?
  • Is there something that will need to be done in order to catch up with the planned goals?
  • Has something become obsolete requiring a new goal to be set for the time period?

Fourth step – keeping the process visible.

Can your staff tell you what the Big 5 are for this year? Try it – ask them at meetings, stop them in the halls, reiterate these goals during discussions, and yes – put up the posters.

Is the company doing something major that is not aimed at one of your strategic Big 5? Maybe you are doing a large renovation to your facilities, but this is not part of your Big 5. Why are you doing it, then? Why did it not make it to the Big 5 if it is important? Do you need to alter your Big 5?

Can each and every one of your staff relate what they are doing back to the Big 5? Maybe you need to have them tell you what it is they are doing at your next meeting. Go around the table and get them to tell you. If they can’t – then it is your responsibility to work with them until they can. Start by showing them that what you are doing is directly related to moving the Big 5 forward.

When a decision needs to be made, is it made with the Big 5 in mind? Do you ask your staff “how will that increase revenue?” or, “will that improve quality?,” (assuming these are part of your Big 5) in order to look for the alignment of the decision with the Big 5? If not, why not?

When you have reached the point where all of your staff members know what the 5 major strategic objectives are for the current year, your messaging is successful. When they can make a plan, and work toward achieving it, linked to corporate success, you are on your way. But when they can articulate what they are doing, with any of their day-to-day responsibilities, and link them to corporate strategy, you now have your company focused to succeed.

The last step is making sure that they are making decisions based on their level of influence on the corporate strategy. Are your employees asking themselves “will making this change or decision advance one of the Big 5?” If the answer is no, then they are probably not focusing on the right activity or task. If the answer is yes, then they are on the right track. Choices made at all levels of your organization will affect your achievement of your corporate strategy – from the proper greeting of a customer, to a significant financial decision. As long as your employees know where they should be focusing their energies, and specifically what they are supposed to be doing to achieve their objectives, your organization is focused on your corporate strategic goals.

Now you have a company that is walking the talk.

Figure 3 - Hierarchy of Awareness - Linking Strategy to Performance

Linking performance to strategic goals is not a difficult process, but it takes time and commitment to set in place a process that individual contributors can see their part in the big picture.

The posters are just a reminder.

Though the above article appears to loosely refer to Management by Objectives made popular by Peter Drucker in his 1954 book 'The Practice of Management', this article advocates a specific goal setting process to be done from the bottom up.

Steve Lemmex, MBA, PMP

Steve Lemmex is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) with 19 years of experience as a Management Trainer and Project Management consultant. He was owner and manager of Lemmex & Associates Limited, a consulting firm that offered more than 60 management, business, and interpersonal skills courses to both the private sector and government. He authored Global Knowledge’s Management and Leadership Skills for New Managers, Advanced Management and Leadership Skills and Communication and Negotiation Skills courses. Steve has taught more than 2,500 custom and public courses for thousands of participants in North and South America, England and India.

Merri L. Lemmex, MBA-PM, PMP
Merri has 25 years in the training industry, beginning with the development of technical training programs and expanding to include design, development and delivery of regulatory training and management skills courses. Organizations that she has held teaching positions with include Wang, Kyma, Corel Systems, the Canadian Medical Protective Association, Duke University, neuroLanguage and Halogen Software. In addition, she has owned and operated two businesses, and is an experienced manager in the training function and personnel management of large organizations.

Merri holds a Masters in Business Administration degree with a concentration in Project Management from Athabasca University.