I recently sat down with a young entrepreneur who had launched a new business venture but wasn’t as successful as he wanted it to be. As we talked, he shared what he hoped his business would have done by now; how he felt like his sales team just wasn’t delivering; and how his front line staff just didn’t seem to understand how he wanted the business to be run. After about an hour unloading his hopes and feelings about the business, I had to tell him the most difficult words one entrepreneur can say to another: “You’re bound to fail.”
He was shocked; he had met with me so I could help him decide what to do. He heard that Infinity had struggled in our early stages but that we’d finally found a way to succeed. I explained I’d like to help him, but couldn’t, because the problem wasn’t with his business it was with him; and for his business to succeed one of two things needed to happen. Either he had to find someone else to lead his business, or he had to change his way of thinking. I went on to explain that hope wasn’t a strategy and that feelings aren’t measureable. The choice was his alone, and if these changes were made could he build a successful business.
During Infinity’s early years, these statements had applied to us as well. When we took actions based on hopes and feelings, we didn’t know why we were successful one moment, and a failing the next. Like this young man, I had also sought out others who would listen to my hopes and feelings. People listened to me and would try and give me advice on budgets, metrics and strategic thinking; but I would either fail to implement their suggestions or when I did, I wouldn’t carry them out correctly. This was because I wasn’t ready to do the most important thing any leader must do—lead with intention.
So what does Intentional Leadership look like? It’s composed of three elements: Plan, Communicate, Adjust and Communicate. (Yes, I said communicate twice, because it’s that important.)
You must first build a plan and establish goals for your business that define its success. Your plan may be for a month, quarter, year or longer. I would suggest you start with a short-term plan, as it’s easier to grasp. Your goals must be SMART (Strategic, Measureable, Attainable, Reasonable and Timely). Establishing measurements for success is the most difficult part for me; establishing benchmarks requires defining the details of a task. For example, “Increase sales this month over last month” as a goal isn’t measurable, but “Increase sales by 10% over the previous month” is measurable.
I would also be sure to determine if increased sales is the real goal or the outcome of another goal. If you find you aren’t submitting enough proposals to increase sales, this might be because you aren’t setting up enough meetings. Instead your goal might really be, “Complete at least 25 meetings during the month of June.” The additional meetings should result in more opportunities, which should result in increased sales. You have to spend time to understand the root of the goal to achieve the outcome. Write out each of your goals and read them daily; your team should read them too. Be intentional in your goal setting if you want to succeed.
Once you’ve determined your specific goals, share them with your team regularly, and why they’re important to the success of your business. Did I mention you should communicate them over and over again? You see, your staff wasn’t a part of your 100+ hours of planning, nor have they been thinking about your company’s goals 24/7 like you have. Your leadership team was likely in the meetings when you first established your goals; and you may have communicated some of your thoughts to other staff members. But you can’t expect that everyone will “get it” from just one meeting, no matter how well organized your plan and goals are.
However, this is a start; and you should continue to communicate your plan, goals and their value via meetings, printed pieces and in internal email messages and newsletters. Individual teams should have meetings of their own to develop their own specific set of plans and goals that support your larger plan and goals.
Afterwards, just continue to communicate, communicate, communicate! Repeat your plan, goals and their value in a “communication rhythm” in weekly emails and updates, and in weekly, monthly and quarterly meetings. Use them to frame conversations you have with staff. Always demonstrate how the work they’re doing supports the company’s goal—or if their work isn’t supporting the goal, what things staff members should change. Your company’s plan, goals and their value should also be part of every communication with your leadership team.
You’ll know when everyone finally “gets It,” when:
- After repeating the plan, goals, and their value you get some “eye rolling” or a, “Yeah, we get it,” as they repeat back to you the things they heard you say.
- Or when you ask them, “What does that this goal mean?” or “Why does this plan matter?” and they can articulate a detailed answer.
- When they start talking about the plan, goals and value as you do to other staff members, and lastly
- When they begin to talk about their individual or team goals and how they line up with the company’s larger goals.
This doesn’t come easy, and to be honest we still work on this daily at Infinity. But if you lead with intention the results will follow.
So what happens when your plans don’t intersect with reality? You adjust
them. “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry,” as the saying goes. This can be hard to accept. You worked so hard to establish your company’s plans and goal, and you’ve been continually communicating them to everyone; but they just aren’t being achieved.
This is the time to really get intentional and evaluate whether the plans and goals were truly SMART; did you communicate them effectively—or were they wrong from the beginning? Then decide how you can make adjustments.
The worst thing you can do is let a goal or plan just “die.” If you do, your staff could lose faith in your leadership. You must explain that adjustments are being made and why, and how the changes you’ll be making will provide a better path to success.
The hardest for me was when we realized back in 2009 how we missed changes in the market, resulting in the company being overstaffed. I had to stand in front of two groups of people and explain why we had to let some of then go to ensure the business could go on and achieve our overall goals. Some of these employees were friends and long-time team members which made it especially hard. This wasn’t one of my proudest moments, and one that I carry with me every day. Now each day I look at our plans and goals and ask myself if we’re doing enough to ensure this never happens again.
Communicate (all over again)
And now, we come back to communicate. Whether you had to change plans or whether the plan is working, you have to communicate, communicate, communicate! Because in order for staff members to follow a leader with a clear vision, the leader must help them understand how they contribute to that vision. And, they will forget, as this is human nature—to forget words and deeds. And to be honest, you’re no different. So your constant communication will also remind you of the things you should be doing every day to follow your plan and reach your goals.
So how did things turn out for the young entrepreneur? I’m not sure; he’s still working through the tough choices that come with a new business when things just don’t “work out.” But I can tell you that he’s written the word INTENTIONAL on a piece of paper above his company’s logo.
Do you know how to lead intentionally? I would love to hear from you! I’m still learning and realize that there are many of you out there with more experience and success than me. I’m always ready to listen and learn!