The year’s end is a natural time for leaders to clear off their desks and begin setting goals that will be key to their company’s growth and productivity in the coming months. But figuring out exactly what those objectives are and how best to implement them is no easy feat.
No wonder more than three quarters of the business owners polled in a recent Staples National Small Business Survey  said they haven’t achieved their vision for their company.
Daina Middleton, global CEO of Performics  and author of Marketing in the Participation Age  suggests leaders begin with an eye toward how they do business. “It’s clear that we are living in a highly participative and networked environment,” she explains. “Businesses are beginning to understand that to thrive in the participation age, they must become adept ‘nurturists,’” Middleton advises, by adapting quickly, cultivating what works, and culling what doesn’t.
Pam Horan, president of the Online Publishers Association  (OPA), recommends sitting down with your team to collaborate. “You have hired them as functional experts, and their perspective is critical,” she says. “As the business leader, you have to drive the final decision, but their input should be where you begin.”
Encourage Smart Growth
This is the stage that gets everyone thinking big. Increasing market share, growing profits, and being more innovative are commonly tossed out without much thought as to specifics. That’s why executive leadership at the Motley Fool , a multimedia financial services company, creates a road map--annually.
Kerra McDonough, Motley Fool’s chief performance officer, explains that the road map lays out the company’s purpose and objectives along with one to five strategies to help accomplish its goals. The road map aligns with the company’s budget and forecast and is designed to fit on a single sheet of paper. The map is given to every staff member and posted around the office. It’s revisited every quarter to ensure milestones are met. Employees are encouraged to craft their own personal road map in the same way, so they can tie into the overall mission of the company. Getting people on board is easy, says McDonough. “We base our incentive programs on those goals. The progress towards them gets everyone motivated.” Staying on track is simply a matter of asking where a new idea fits into the road map. “Creating that conversation also allows you to come up with your not-to-do list,” she says.
Make Meetings More Productive
Mike Williams, CEO of the David Allen Company , advises that the leader of the organization hang a large sign in each conference room that states: "If the purpose and desired outcome of this meeting are not clearly stated within the first five minutes, please walk out--you have my permission."
Likewise, all meetings should begin with one simple question, "What does success look like for this meeting?" That starts the process of focusing energy and can reduce emails after a meeting and subsequent meetings to clarify what just happened, he says. The most efficient meetings would end with this question: "What are the next actions and who owns them?"
There’s an unexpected bonus to this approach, says Williams. “You may find you accomplished the goal of the meeting within the first 15 minutes.”
Find A Common Purpose For The Sake Of Innovation
Margaret Neale, Adams Distinguished Professor of Management at Stanford Graduate School of Business, says there’s a paradox at play when encouraging teams to be more innovative. “They need to be homogenous in their understanding and commitment to a goal,” she says, even though each team member will come in with his or her own perspective.
“They are going to have to generate conflict in order to solve a problem,” Neale observes. “But they’ll be more able to handle it if they trust everyone has a common purpose.” It’s the team leader’s job to make sure that everyone is able to share a dissenting opinion if they have one, she says. If members censor themselves or have a misplaced belief that the group doesn’t have conflict, they’ll be less likely to reach a truly innovative solution to a problem.
Chi-Hua Chien, general partner at the Silicon Valley-based venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers , doesn’t share the view that fundraising is entirely dependent on economic tradewinds. He was investing in consumer companies in the dark days after the dot-com bust, as well as when things were sunnier in 2010. He believes the entrepreneurs who will most likely get funding in any given year have a compelling vision and are pursuing a large market opportunity. “They won’t rest until that vision comes to pass,” he explains. Chien says he often recalls the wisdom of another partner at the firm who said the most successful founders “dream big and execute small.” Says Chien: “You want to be sure you can dream a compelling dream but at same time be able to execute small, such as building the right features for a product or hiring the right people.” There are no shortage of small-business owners who can do one of those things, says Chien, but those who are able to do both are more likely to attract investments.
Be A Better Corporate Citizen
You don’t have to have the funds and resources of a juggernaut like Walmart; even small companies and newly established ventures can make a difference. “We have a mantra at SumAll --doing good by doing right--and we pretty much try to bring it to everything we do, whether it's in our daily projects or the way we manage a transparent business,” says CEO Dane Atkinson. That’s why employees at the data-analytics startup donate 10% of their personal holdings in the company to SumAll’s philanthropic foundation. “As the company does better, so does our foundation and thus, the people and causes it can help.” Everyone is on board because each individual has ownership of the charity. That translates to action,” Atkinson says. “We've already seen initiatives to help victims of Hurricane Sandy in the first few weeks of operation.”
Delight Your Customers
Superior customer service should be reflected in everything from brand values to hiring, according to Ron Hovsepian, CEO of IntraLinks , a provider of inter-enterprise content management and collaboration software. When setting goals for the new year, Hovsepian suggests gauging customer loyalty and clients’ perception of the business to single out those that tie back to the most valuable growth. “Using a net promoter score can help a company focus resources toward improving products and services for customers where it is needed most by implementing short, simple to communicate feedback surveys,” he suggests. Likewise, Hovsepian recommends using annual contract reviews as a way to set customer service goals. “While contract reviews may seem like a series of standardized processes handled by a company’s legal team, use them to ensure that scopes of service are clearly defined, appropriately documented and can be executed with available resources.”
[Image: Flickr user Giorgio Raffaelli ]