Posts Tagged setting objectives

Leader Checkpoint: 9 simple -but not easy- questions

Leader Checkpoint Business Teams Self

“In strategy it is important to see distant things as if they were close and to take a distanced view of close things.”

 Miyamoto Musashi (宮本 武蔵), famous Japanese swordsman (~1584-1645) in “The Book of Five Rings” (五輪書)


The more businesses urgency increases, the more important it is for business leaders and managers to regularly step back and reflect on the 3 cornerstones supporting the development of an healthy organization: the understanding of the overall business environment and related company directions, the appreciation of the company teams situation and the alignment with one self as part of the management team. Answering the questions from this post is a first step that should help any leader to initiate a deeper thinking exercise when and where required.

Download a one-page executive summary here (PDF or JPEG format): Leader Checkpoint: 9 critical questions



As leaders and managers, growing a sustainable organization requires to constantly align the company business, the teams in charge of delivering on the company mission and oneself. If only two of these three cornerstones are in sync, disaster is very probably a matter of time…

More concretely, imagine the result for your company, your teams and/or yourself in the following misalignment cases:

  1. Alignment between Business environment and Self but unsynchronized with Team: As a manager, you are fully motivated and aware of what you have to deliver with which support, with a clear understanding of your company priorities under the given business context, but your teams do no longer understand the company strategy and do not follow on the required organizational changes; key staff attrition increases rapidly…
  2. Alignment between Team and Self but unsynchronized with Business environment: Under your leadership, your team has reached a high level of maturity leading to strong performance; you have supported its development leveraging with agility on your management strengths and expertise while continuing improving on your weaknesses and you have built a solid relationship based on trust and respect with your team members. Nonetheless neither you nor your team understand any more what the customers expect and how the company is trying to answer to those new needs…
  3. Alignment between Business environment and Team but unsynchronized with Self: Your company has just identified new trends changing the landscape of your industry and is preparing the necessary organization adjustment; your team gets clearly why a change is needed at that stage but you are already over-loaded and do not know whether you would have the ability to lead an organizational change at this stage while handling in parallel some personal difficulties…

In order to (re)initiate the thinking process on those 3 cornerstones, answer the 9 questions below in the “Practice” section. To some questions, answers may pop instantaneously whereas, to some others, you may stay perplex. In any case, note down your answers; they can be used later as a basis for a deeper study by yourself, with your teams, management or peers. Take the time to run this checkpoint exercise once or twice a year at least (at a time and in a place where you can focus).


  • exercise 1: Reflect on your business
    • What makes your organization unique in the value it delivers to its customers?
    • How does your organization anticipate and answer to the forces (re)shaping your ecosystem?
    • As part of the management team, what does your company expect you to achieve to support its mission in both a short-term and long-term perspective?
  • exercise 2: Reflect on your teams
    • If you’d ask each of your staff to explain in 2 minutes what your company position and uniqueness are, as well as what the expectation regarding their individual and team contribution in supporting the company mission is, what would be the result?
    • If you had to rebuild from scratch your organization, which of your current employees would you ask to join, in which role and why?
    • How does the development plan set for your teams and their members match the individual trajectories?
  • exercise 3: Reflect on yourself
    • What are your top 3 personal and professional successes and failures over the past 12 months?
    • What is the “one thing” that you want to achieve personally and professionally over the next 3 months, 1 year, 3 years, 10 years and how?
    • What are the intrinsic or extrinsic conditions that could prevent you from aligning with your company objectives and with your teams?

So What?

From your business universe, your teams, yourself, taking time to grasp the context and to understand the situation at hands is what will allow you to set the relevant action plan to support the development of your organization, teams and self on the long run. Running regularly a simple 9-question self-reflection on your business, teams and self can help you to identify areas to study and discuss in deeper details as a next step.

Last Revision: 2015 March 28


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Continuous Improvement: keep pushing the Deming Wheel on the Kaizen road

“Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.”

 Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known under his pen name Mark Twain, American author and humorist (1835-1910)


As part of the famous “Kaizen” (改善) practices introduced to Japan post World War II to help the country reconstruction, Deming advised among others a simple technique, the Shewhart cycle, more commonly called the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle, in order to improve company processes in manufacturing, engineering and business management.  Since then, the PDCA cycle (also called the Deming Wheel) has frequently been used as a management best practice to support the continuous improvement of systems and organizations. This post summarizes some recommendations for each phase of the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle.

Download a one-page executive summary here (PDF or JPEG format): Continuous Improvement: the Deming Wheel (PDCA)



Because the performance of the companies we work for is highly dependent on the quality of their underlying systems (understand “system” here in its broad meaning of a set of interacting or interdependent components forming an integrated whole, from a production chain to a sales process, an organization structure or a business strategy), changing those for the better becomes an obvious objective for any business leader.

Before initiating any PDCA cycle, there is a very first important step, sometimes referred as the “Observation” phase,  which simply consists in identifying what already rolls with very little waste or friction in your organization, from what partially runs but could be optimized further, from what does not work at all. Beyond performing your own study or referring to external auditors for this phase, and because improving a system for a better performance should be everyone’s responsibility, at all level of the organization, the best place to start is often with your direct teams, peers, providers and customers. Here are two simple methods to engage your teams in such a discussion:

  • Run a risk exercise with your teams: ask each of your team member to list the three main risks that they may think of for the team / department / company by answering specifically to the four points below.
    1. What is the fact or else the specific condition at the origin of the risks?
    2. What are the consequences from this fact or conditions?
    3. What is the impact for the team / department / company
    4. What are the possible risk mitigation plans? (Usually, the more specific the answers to the first three questions are, the easier it is to identify mitigation action plans)

Here is a concrete example of risk exercise:

1.  Fact or specific condition: the weekend support activities initiated 4 weeks ago for the release X are prepared individually by each implementation engineer on a customer-by-customer basis, without minimum notification timeframe being requested to the client.

2. Consequences: 

  • in the past 4 weeks, 5 change tasks lists out of 6 regarding Release X were prepared last minute (with less than 48h notice) and were not consistent across the team (4 different task lists out of 6), making it more complex and time-consuming for the four-eye check by the Service Desk,
  • in total, 8 employees came on the weekend for those 6 changes in the past 4 weeks where it could have been performed by 5 engineers through scripting,
  • 1 employee has been identified at risk because of too many weekend work activities.

3. Impact: high risk of operation mishandling implying potential reputational impact and client business loss and increased cost for weekend support and four-eye check, staff turnover due to repeated weekend activities

4. possible mitigation plan: implement a process of weekend work validation at the team level, involving senior staff and Service Desk to identify common framework and intervention and possible scripting activities

  • Ask each of your staff what they think they should start / keep / stop doing, why and how? In order to get to the bottom of your staff comments and answers, make sure to ask probing questions.

Moreover, while grasping the current situation of your company and listing the priority of what you want to improve first, make sure to understand as well the interdependency between each system you analyze: you may find some simple systems with very little interactions with other parts of your company but you may also discover complex core systems, systems of systems involving various subsystems and that are highly entrenched at all level of your organization. In the latter case, keep the following two basic points in mind:

  • “Great” must not be the enemy of “Good”. If you tend to be perfectionist and face a complex system to improve, you may not be in a position to find the direct final perfect answer! And even if you do so, you may face difficulties in identifying where to start. Don’t freeze there… Even very complex systems can usually be divided in smaller subsystems; breakdown your issue in smaller problems that you can more easily grasp and tackle.  The PDCA cycle is also thought to run iteratively to improve on the long run, in a continuous manner. Go for some small incremental steps and several iterations of the cycle to ease the approach of large complex systems. You will then become “Good” to become later “Great”! It will also give you the flexibility to modify your approach if needs be.
  • “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” Antoine de Saint-Exupery, French writer, poet, and pioneering aviator (1900 – 1944)

Following this first observation phase, you and your team now know what you want to improve and are all together ready to push the Deming Wheel on the Kaizen road, rolling through the four following phases: Plan, Do, Check and Act.

  • Plan: Regular Project Management best practices can easily apply here. In a nutshell, our recommendation is to “go slow to go fast”! The more you prepare your project execution upfront, the less risk you have to fail and engage in expensive corrective actions in the “Act” phase. You will find below a non-exhaustive list of items you may want to check to help preparing your plan.
    • write a simple one-liner mission statement that you can share easily
    • specify clearly and precisely the desired outcome and related deliverables
    • define the metrics, Key Performance Indicators (KPI) and Measure of Success (MoS)
    • identify a unique project owner, the project team, the related stakeholders and a potential sponsor
    • precise the project milestones, beginning, end and dependencies
    • list the required resources and means to ensure project completion (resource, technology, training…)
    •  in case of structural or organizational change, anticipate and remove resistance by ensuring project buy-in (through proper communication plan, proposing a pilot step, identification of quick wins…)
  • Do: the success of your system improvement will rely as much on your planning as on the rigor of your execution. The key word here is to make sure that accountability around the various project tasks and activities is clearly defined.
    • look at your task breakdown and ensure a single person is accountable for the execution, reporting to the project owner
    • have the project owner running regular progress update review, asking for binary answer on the task execution for high-level progress overview (Is the task closed or open? If not closed, is it started?)
    • update your sponsor and stakeholders on the project progress (and faced challenges) and seek for feedback in order to confirm the direction (especially in volatile project environment), share the feedbacks with the project team and explore blocking issues for alternative solutions
    • communicate project updates accordingly to remove further resistance to change
  • Check:  This analysis phase consists in studying the obtained result. Have the goals and objectives been met? If not why? What are the root causes? This phase usually encompasses the below activities.
    • compare obtained results and project outputs against the initial specifications and project MoS defined in the “Plan” phase to evaluate the project performance
    • identify deviation from the plan, success and failures and their related root cause (the 5-Why technique can be used here to help getting to the root cause of an item in parallel to asking penetrating questions)
    • run the lessons learned from the “Plan” and “Do” phases making sure to highlight possible improvement areas for future cycle iterations
  • Act: Based on the outputs of the “Check” phase, you should be able to easily  identify what to adjust in order to get closer to the expect results defined in the “Plan” phase and to deduct the related possible corrective actions. You are then ready to start a new iteration of the PDCA cycle. But before that, also make sure to close this cycle by communicating your achievements to your sponsor, stakeholders and any other parties involved in this project as well as by providing the project team with feedbacks on their performance and by describing the next expected steps for the coming cycle (whether the same team will get involved or not in the next cycle).


  • exercise 1: Run the risk exercise described in the “Observation” phase by yourself. Then run it as well with your direct reports. Are they common items raised by yourself and by your staff? Which priority would you set for each of the risk (High/Medium/Low)?
  • exercise 2: Run the “start/keep/stop doing” exercise described in the “Observation” phase by yourself and then with your direct reports. Answer the same questions as the ones from exercise 1.
  • exercise 3: Pick one high priority item from exercise 1 or exercise 2 and prepare on paper the “Plan” phase of the PDCA cycle. Which difficulties have you encountered? How would you overcome those difficulties, should you start the PDCA cycle in reality?

So What?

In order to improve the performance of a company, it is a common practice to improve its underlying structure, processes and other system components using a Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) approach. Once areas of improvement have been selected and prioritized through a preliminary “Observation” phase, the PDCA technique (also known as Deming Wheel) promotes a continuous improvement approach by running iteratively through a 4-stage cycle. First, The “Plan” phase of the cycle allows to define precise goals and measures of success while requiring as well to bring all risks and dependencies upfront for a greater efficiency in execution. Then, the “Do” phase is the place for project execution, reinforced by clearly defined ownership and accountability for each activity. The “Check” phase is the time of analysis, focusing on analyzing the difference between the obtained results and the initial objectives as well as the related root cause. Finally, the “Act” phase proposes to define the corrective actions and possible adjustments based on the “Check” phase outputs and closes the cycle while preparing for the next cycle iteration. Embedding this very simple PDCA method in your company practises will help to initiate the virtuous circle of continuous improvement through small, tangible, incremental steps, leading to enhanced performance with each single iteration.

Last Revision: 2015 March 28

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Setting objectives: better than SMART is SMARTER.

“I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it.”

 William Thomson, also known as Lord Kelvin, Scottish physicist (1824-1907)


In order to execute efficiently on your company strategy while supporting the personal development of your staff, it is your duty as manager to set and share adequate team and individual goals. A commonly used management method recommends defining SMARTER criteria for your goals: the objectives must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound as well as Evaluated on a regular basis and Recognized/Rewarded when achieved or Revisited when not.

Download a one-page executive summary here (PDF or JPEG format): Team and Individual Goals: Be SMARTER



Setting team and individual objectives is a key process that allows your team to focus on a long-term unified direction by defining clear targets to reach and by measuring the progress towards those targets. It also helps to increase your staff engagement and their job satisfaction by offering them some personal rewarding challenges supporting their personal development. Obviously the goals that you set directly derive from your company strategy, match its values and take into account the missions and maturity of your team and each of its members.

The most classical management method for setting objectives proposes to follow “SMARTER” criteria. Your objectives must be:

  • Specific: the goal must be explicitly defined, without any ambiguity. It cannot be subject to individual interpretation but must explain specifically what has to be achieved and the type of outcome expected.
  • Measurable: the completion criteria and related quantitative or qualitative measurement method must be clearly described. In other words, you must be able to answer the question: “How will I know that the objective is attained and which evidences are required to confirm it?”
  • Attainable:  this criterion emphasizes the importance of setting an objectives that is challenging for your team but nonetheless reachable against the existing constraints. It also requests you to assess whether the objective is realistic taking into account the other objectives that you have already set for the same employee. If the target is out of reach, your objective will become meaningless. This criteria also poses the question of the resource, authority and means needed to accomplish the objective: confirm how the goal can be reached (specific skills to be acquired, training available, human or financial resources, level of authority…). An objective cannot be reached “by all means” but through method and means aligned with your company ethic and values.
  • Relevant: the goal must be tied to your organization priorities and to the employee maturity in his role. Goals that align to your company strategy, the team mission and the employee development and that do not conflict with other objectives are relevant. It also requires to check whether the timing for the objective is appropriate.
  • Time-bound: this criterion stresses the importance to specify an appropriate time frame for your goal: when is it supposed to start and to end? What are the steps and critical milestones to accomplish it? What are the intermediate outcomes expected and by when? Answering those questions contributes to define a sense of priority for your staff and helps them to organize their tasks around their various objectives.
  • Evaluated: as a manager, it is your responsibility to set challenging goals for you team but also to support your staff in reaching their targets by assessing the progress on a regular basis and by providing some recommendations or coaching session to overcome eventual obstacles. Define some specific checkpoints (at a predefined frequency or at critical milestones) and the related expected deliverables. Do not wait for the objective to reach its time-limit to deliver your feedbacks: this is counter-productive because it does not support the development of your collaborator and may even create frustration if the target is missed. The final evaluation result of the objective completion should not come as a surprise to your employee but should be the reflect of the intermediate reviews plus the evaluation of the last mile and its final output.
  • Recognized/Rewarded or Revisited: when reaching the end of the time frame defined for the goal execution, run the final evaluation to assess the success or failure in achieving the objectives. Ask your employee for the lessons learned while executing the objective. What would they do differently next time? Why? What could they manage easily? What were the main obstacles? How have they been able to overcome them? What have they learned? If the objective is reached, explain the type of reward that the employee can expect (impact of the evaluation on possible promotion or mobility, extended responsibilities and autonomy on similar activities at the next opportunity, monetary compensation…) and in any case recognize the accomplishment. It is important to praise the employee for his performance, especially when outstanding. On the other hand, if the outcomes are below expectation, it is crucial to run a full review with your employee to understand what went wrong and why. Ask penetrating questions to get to the essence of the issue and share ideas on what could have been done differently. This discussion allows you to revisit the objective in order to draw the appropriate conclusions and should become the basis for defining new goals that will help your employee to improve his weak areas.

What will make the success of your team and its members in achieving their goals is their capacity to own their objectives and focus on their execution regardless of the numerous distractions from their daily activities. From experience, in order to increase the sense of ownership, I recommend here to engage your team further by:

  • having your team member propose their self-defined objectives; review if they are compatible with the overall organization missions and priorities as well as relevant for the employee development within the company and include them if this is the case,
  • reviewing and agreeing together with your staff on the SMART criteria for the objectives you assign them; involve them especially on the means, resources and time frame definition,
  • making sure to explain how those objectives will support their personal development, the team mission and the overall company strategy,
  • asking your staff to print out their objectives once set and to keep them visible at any time in their work environment.

At the end of the goal setting exercise, each employee should be able to express clearly the following:

“My company objective is to XXX ; our team will support this goal by XXX ; my personal contribution to this mission is to XXX .”


  • exercise 1: Are the following objectives SMART? If the answer is “no”, what is missing and how can you correct them to make them SMART?
  1. To a Developer: Reduce the number of open critical bugs for Product P by 30% by the end of Q2
  2. To a Sales executive: Increase number of deals signed by 60%
  3. To a Service Desk engineer: Create a knowledge database that will list all critical incidents and their respective solutions and that will be accessible to all Service Desk members by the end of the year.
  4. To a Client Relationship Manager: attend training for Product P
  • exercise 2: Take one of your current objectives; is it SMART? If the answer is “no”, what is missing?
  • exercise 3: Review the objectives that you have set for your team members. Are they SMARTER? How can you adjust them if this is not the case?

So What?

In most of the cases, managers with teams set for success go really instrumental when defining and assessing the objectives for their teams and respective members. They define goals that not only reflect and support the organization strategy and mission but also that inspire and motivate their collaborators by making sure that those goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound. Then they spend time providing regular feedbacks and intermediate Evaluation and make sure that the employee is Reocgnized/Rewarded when the target is achieved or that the objective is Revisited through adequate review when it is missed.

Answer to exercise 1: 1. yes – 2. no – 3. yes – 4. no

Last Revision: 2015 March 24

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