3 Types of Objectives that Lead to Failure

My business journey has given me significant experiences in retail, corporate and manufacturing. As a certified Six Sigma consultant I’ve managed hundreds of millions of dollars and as a salesperson I’ve closed $2.3B in deals. While this might sound impressive to some, it is not.

In all of my business experiences, I’ve learned, albeit the hard way at times, that ALL success is driven by proactively achieving realistic and measureable objectives – Nothing more. It doesn’t matter if you get paid $8.25 an hour or you receive six figure bonuses. I can assure you that the same business principles work at all levels and in every industry.

I can also assure you that there are three types of objectives that lead to failure and hurt the business.

1. The Unpublished Firestorm

During my tenure at a large box retail store I found myself receiving a disciplinary notice in writing. This was soon after I had converted many markdowns into credits, which I thought was worthy of a pat on the back rather than a negative performance review. However, it turned out that I was not meeting my unpublished objectives.

Apparently my partial training did not prepare me for working the objectives I was never given. Nor did I have any metrics to meet; yet I was being judged by specific measurements listed in my disciplinary notice. The discussion that accompanied the paperwork clarified that I was also to be making certain business decisions without the help of others, or the help of business parameters that would guide standard business decision processes.

I was, however, told in the beginning that I would have 90 days to become fully operational. That magic date triggered the disciplinary measures. Unfortunately, the entire store was in a firestorm of activity during the busy season when I was hired. This forced me to learn most of what I did through osmosis and observation.

The great news about the disciplinary notice is that it forced circumstances that helped me to understand my unpublished objectives. The bad news is that the process forced several levels above me to learn for the first time that I existed, but as a problem child, not one that was converting markdowns, shrink and returns into credits.

The lesson I learned – Assert to have your supervisor measure your work ONLY on published, achievable, realistic, and measurable objectives that you both agree on.

2. The Everyone-Wins Pretense

I spent a lot of time in the Fortune 50 world both as an employee and a consultant. Everything I did was about published metrics, which was far better than trying to meet unpublished objectives. However, the metrics I was assigned were so full of fluff that it didn’t drive any specific business behaviors or decisions.

It’s common for businesses to shift and move with the market, but it’s just as uncommon for upper management to allow for the metrics and objectives to flex to the ever changing business drivers. This is due in part to how bonuses are structured.

The end result is the establishment of objectives that are so soft that any successful activity will appear to be an achievement. These types of objectives are merely in place to meet the redtape requirements of the corporation and in no way drive the business.

At the beginning of every year I was to put my measurable objectives in writing. Then the document would go up the flagpole and trickle back down with so many fluff words that any good executive could make my performance seem spot on or like I missed it by a mile, depending on my social/political position at the time.

This was done to support the executive’s goals. If the team succeeded, the documentation proved that the execs were smart, excellent planners and drove the business in the exact way they had predetermined. And, if the team failed, the documentation would easily point out which worker held the team back from success and needed to be put on a performance improvement plan.

The lesson I learned – Assert to have your executives measure your work ONLY on published, achievable, realistic, and measurable objectives that you both agree on.

3. The Zealous Ambiguity

I was brought on board to consult during the development of a start up company’s business plan. The first draft read incredibly well and its design was not only functional, but artist. At first glance, it was a business worth investing in. That is, until I read the objectives.

The objectives were actually goals or vision statements. There were no measurements to hold anyone accountable and the budget didn’t come close to supporting the enthusiastic ideals set forth. Yet some how, the zealous ambiguity that normal companies wouldn’t be able to achieve in less than ten years with twenty times the budget, seemed compelling and therefore worth investing in.

However, a second read of the material made me realize that the executives had no clue what they wanted or how they were going to achieve it. Their natural charisma and vision covered for their inability to convert ideals into practical and measureable actions.

After sitting down and talking through each of the twelve key objectives, we tossed out all but two. We then determined the strategies and action plans required to specifically achieve those two, now measureable objectives and built a realistic budget. The end result was a start up cost of four times the initial budget – But it was now actually achievable.

The lesson I learned – Assert to have your clients measure their work ONLY on published, achievable, realistic, and measurable objectives that you both agree on.

The goal of an objective should be to measure reality for the sole reason of methodically reproducing the successes and turning around the failures. Anything less is merely a political or ignorant game that increases shareholder risk. Unfortunately, most directives are not geared toward improving the business model and its success, but rather are put in place to quickly find scapegoats and cover for executives who have no idea how to run their business.

Copyright © 2014 by CJ Powers
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2 thoughts on “3 Types of Objectives that Lead to Failure

  1. Great points. Unpublished objectives are not only dangerous–but they are downright scary. And if you know they’re looming over your head, you’ll lose a lot of sleep too!

  2. Glad I saved this to read when I could focus. How very true, and sad, but lessons well worth learning. 3rd point is the best, showing how with proper inspiration, vision, experience and an open mind, all the previous mistakes/learning opportunities can be utilized to come up with a quantifiable, workable solution!

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