“WHAT” < “HOW”

Most every year I set some goals for myself around weightlifting and other things. In weightlifting, it helps me focus. I’m not competing any longer (except with myself). Working through my cycles, I finally stepped up last month and deadlifted my goal weight. It felt awesome, and felt like it moved relatively quickly!

And I filmed it. And I watched the video. I looked a little like a Halloween Cat.

BUT, I thought… I DID get the weight “up”, so technically, I lifted the weight… well, that’s what I was thinking… until my buddy Steve walked up (he’s actually a world record holder), and he said, “You gonna count that?”

And that reminded me.

I was not yet an executive at the company, but I was running all of the Sales and Support teams. The CEO called me into his office. I had known him for many years so he and I had a great relationship. His call wasn’t a huge surprise or stressful. We were coming to the end of the quarter, we were close to hitting our numbers and I estimated that we would hit our top line numbers but we had some returns that would hit our bottom line, so we’d come up short on the profit and we were looking at the next quarter aggressively. We made small talk and then he asked me a couple of questions. Then he started asking me about those returns. Ultimately, he told me to stage them so that we would not receive them or show them on the books in the current quarter. He couldn’t miss this quarter’s numbers with the board, didn’t want to miss his bonus, so, he wanted to make sure. When I asked him about next quarter, he said we’d worry about that next quarter. We talked about the customer’s (“they’ll understand that their credits will show later”), we talked about our internal metrics because the team’s incentives were tied to cycle times and “returns” counted against sales folks (“we’ll make sure we get them their bonuses, just get me the numbers and I’ll take care of it”). For myself, I asked, “What should I tell the team? They all know this stuff is back and we should be pushing these through… they know!” (“Just tell them I told you to sit on them, or have them focus on something else, just get it done” … I think he was getting tired of me).

So, I did it. It seemed like a little thing… why not…

I “kicked the problem down the road” as they say. We ended up doing some “unnatural acts” in subsequent quarters to manage Board expectations, get people paid as if this had never happened (and then trying to justify that to the Board). This one action caused a series of actions and “story telling” that had to later be justified to external folks. It was a pain in the butt.

However, the largest impact was in the “little things” around staff morale and how they treated one another. I heard things like “if he will do that for his bonus, I wonder what else he’d do.” The CEO lost credibility with the team… ultimately, he never recovered it and we all came to “trust” that he would do anything to make sure he got paid. I also lost respect and credibility, I “did what I was told” rather than making sure things were done “right”. It’s hard to hold people accountable when they KNOW that you’ve also “fudged”.

Folks started behaving in the same way (Sales folks taking deals that might be questionable, Support staff playing with variables to make their stats look good).

Most organizations have a “set” of values to which they say they adhere. These “values” are the way we define “HOW” we will get to our objectives. One of this company’s values was “Integrity”. It didn’t “feel” like integrity was really a value any longer.

When you commit to a direction and to a set of objectives, we call that “Goal Oriented” or “Goal Motivated”. But, that is only part of the equation. I often work with folks who are pursuing a number, or chasing a goal. I have seen in some that when “the NUMBER” becomes THE most important objective, we can lose sight of the “HOW” we achieve it. It can be diminished or lost entirely. In some cases, the results in the short-term can lead to a lost marriage; lawsuits or legal ramifications. Ultimately, though, it undermines trust and becomes the “new norm”.

So, NO, I didn’t “count” that lift… my “integrity” (structural in that case) had been compromised. I’ve reworked my program to assure that I’m REALLY strong enough to lift that weight.

The WHAT of the Goal was the “number”, the “weight”… but the HOW I choose to get there is more important.

Questions to consider:

  • As you are setting goals for next year, are you clear on the HOW you will get there?
  • How you will treat your staff? Your customers? Your suppliers? Your financial reporting?
  • What are the REAL non-negotiable “HOWS”?
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