Entrepreneurs often start companies because they recognize a gap in the marketplace that they believe they can exploit. Working with a very small team, the founders and entrepreneurs build products and services and deliver to customers. As the company grows and begins to mature, the entrepreneur naturally surrounds herself with people who have deep experience in important business functions.  It’s logical that a management team should have an array of strengths, with the intent that all the important needs and functions are met across the team, not in one individual.

What can get lost as companies grow and leadership teams evolve is alignment and common goals.  In many rapidly growing companies we work with, we often find several competing insights and interests, even while claiming to support the original vision of the company.  Marketing, for example, wants to spend money on branding and advertising, while the development team needs more resources to complete the next version of the product.  New opportunities are on the horizon, and the sales team wants to expand their targets and enter new geographies.  Customers are asking for new features, and the product managers are demanding a rethinking or retooling of the product.  Suddenly, everything seems important, and there are dozens of priorities, and every team is claiming that their needs or priorities are most important. 

What happens next is important to the success of the team.  Either the team aligns on a set of priorities and executes with those top priorities in mind, or the teams begin to battle for mindshare and funding, never agreeing on a common set of goals, never achieving alignment.

Shiny Objects or Careful Focus

Every organization that grows rapidly faces challenges with coordination, alignment, and common goals.  The market is full of opportunity and many options or alternatives present themselves.  Without a good framework to evaluate opportunities and alternatives, every option can seem important.  If leaders aren’t diligent, their focus can become diluted pursuing a variety of interesting opportunities that do not help them achieve their goals.

When people ask me what CREO does for growing companies, I always point out our mergers and acquisitions team, which helps our clients grow through acquisition.  Rapidly growing companies need a blend of organic and inorganic growth, and we assist our clients with both.  Additionally, I always call out our digital transformation team, which helps protect data through improved cybersecurity, and helps clients implement computer systems to provide the infrastructure required for sustained growth.  Of course, I talk about our strategic offerings.  Through our strategy practice, we help clients define the future for their company, and we help them achieve their longer-term goals.  But none of these capabilities is as important as the work we do to set common goals across the leadership team and seek alignment within the team.

No matter how capable the team or how intelligent the individual team members are, a team that cannot agree on common goals and align to common priorities and actions will never go very far, no matter how compelling their product is, or how smart their team is.  A leadership team without shared goals and alignment is like a rowing crew, out in the water, where every team member is rowing in a different direction.  While the rowers are working hard, the scull is basically dead in the water, circling uselessly.

All I Need to Know

I frequently reference the book “All I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” because much of the philosophy is true for businesses as well as for life.  The book notes that to be successful, you need to tell the truth, be nice, play well with others, and share your stuff.  Many business leaders know these concepts, but in the pressure of growing and scaling a business, it can be easy to de-prioritize activities such as listening and consensus building in favor of directed action.  And while it appears that it should be easy to get a management team aligned to common goals and shared alignment, it’s often very challenging for several reasons.

First, while many teams talk about goals, they often do not have a good sense of what a “goal” is.  A goal is something that is definitive, that can be achieved in a specific timeframe, and that is measurable.  A well-stated goal should be something like: “Achieve $10M in revenue by the end of the 3rd quarter 2024 in the eastern region” or “Reduce operating expenses by 15% in manufacturing processes in the top three largest plants”.  Many corporate goals that we see are too inexact, nebulous, and difficult to measure, and so frequently ignored.

Second, executive teams need to have just a handful of goals for the business.  We have a mantra we repeat with our clients – fewest, best.  What are the fewest things the management team can focus on that will drive the best outcome for the business.  Leadership teams will often assume that busyness is important and take on far more work or goals than they can accomplish, letting the urgent get in the way of what is actually important.  Leadership teams need to focus on a smaller, more important set of goals rather than pursuing everything.

Third, the handful of goals must be shared, and the team must all align on those goals.  Goals aren’t “marketing’s goals” or “finance’s goals”.  The leadership team needs a handful of shared goals that the entire team aligns on and works on together in the service of corporate goals.  Of course, the functional areas like marketing and sales will have their own goals, but they should cascade from the leadership team’s goals.

There are other factors – compensation plans, personal agendas, personality quibbles – that can lead to conflict and a lack of coordination and alignment in a leadership team.  Solving for common goals and clear alignment will expose a number of these other issues, helping to remove barriers that can compromise organizational performance and goal attainment.

The Benefit of Strategy Partners

Many organizations opt to work with a strategy partner to help them drive strategy development and execution.  An effective partner can offer a strategic planning methodology, development processes, and management models that help leaders imagine their future and align their management team around the specific goals and tactics that will achieve the future.  For example, in CREO, our work often includes:

  • creating a team charter which describes how the leadership team will operate
  • developing a shared set of the most important goals over several planning time horizons that characterize the company’s planned growth journey
  • enumerating the strategic imperatives and growth thesis that represent the organizational focus areas required to successfully execute their growth plans
  • detailing the measurable tactics that will be immediately undertaken to deliver on the strategy
  • refining the management cadence and accountability models to ensure the leadership team has a management engine to support their growth.

As our clients grow, we often serve as a strategy accountability partner to ensure that the team remains focused on the fewest, best goals to accomplish their vision.

While defining goals and aligning executive teams can seem simple, the results can be profound.  Many clients tell me that the goal development and team alignment work has helped their teams get more aligned, focus on more important tasks, and get more done in less time.  When skills and time are at a premium, having a clear goal and an aligned team makes all the difference between everyone rowing at their own pace and destination, and everyone rowing at the same pace and destination.

We’ve witnessed clients move more rapidly into new geographies, attack and win in new markets, or develop new products much more quickly than they had previously.  Most importantly, for growth companies, we see clients grow revenue, market share, and EBITDA more rapidly than they were able to achieve previously.

If your team struggles with alignment or a lack of common goals, talk to us.  We help leadership teams focus on the fewest, most important goals and stay in alignment.