Saturday, September 17, 2011

Do you know where you're going? Set some goals

When you are consumed by the daily demands of publishing news on your website, it is difficult to step back and think about where you are going. But you have to do this.

Otherwise your destination is Nowhereville.

There are entire websites and shelves in the bookstore dedicated to the literature on goal-setting. I will give you a story from my personal experience.

How we set goals and achieved them 

In a business newspaper with 30 employees, 12 of them journalists, we made goal-setting and review a weekly exercise, and it paid off.

We started with an annual off-site meeting of the six managers -- editorial, production, circulation and marketing, administration, advertising sales and the publisher (me). There we did a competitive analysis (strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities) and brainstormed about how to respond.

We crafted an outline of the main areas where we were seeking improvement, such as training, editorial quality, market visibility and advertising revenue.

Narrow the focus

We took these objectives to the staff and asked them to brainstorm ideas with us. When this is done well the facilitator collects all the ideas on a blackboard or flip chart without comment. Otherwise a good idea might get killed by "we tried that before" or "that never works".

Patterns will emerge. Common ideas and problems will pop out, and cross-department solutions will start to emerge. The process can be much the same in a small organization. If there are three or four people on your staff, the basics remain stepping back, seeking grassroots feedback and crafting an action plan.

Many of the proposed actions in a brainstorming process will fit with two or three objectives. Here the managers have to apply some discipline. The longer the list of objectives and the longer the action plan, the less likely it is that any of it will be achieved.

Money and time

Now it is up to the publisher and managers to craft the plan and allocate the people (time) and money to achieving the goals. It might mean that your organization stops producing certain products and starts producing others. It might mean juggling work schedules and responsibilities.

Hint: In a small digital operation, a review of goals might need to take place every two or three months. It does not have to be a gigantic bureaucratic process. It could simply mean making course corrections based on trends in user traffic, etc. 

It might seem surprising to find out that editorial and sales employees usually share the same goals: improved visibility and name recognition in the market, enhanced brand recognition, improved product quality and credibility. Every department can buy into that.

Then the managers have to report back to the staff with the action plan and show each staff member where he or she fits in. Each individual's action plan for the year should fit into the company's goals directly or indirectly.

The keys to goal setting

To have credibility, goals have to be:

  • Realistic
  • Achievable
  • Measurable
  • With deadlines
  • Written down and communicated relentlessly
  • Tracked regularly

At our newspaper, the first part of every weekly meeting was a review of the three or four main goals and the related deadlines.

How was editorial doing on its goal of one investigative story per month? How was the training program going?
Had production sought bids yet for the printing contract? Had the staff learned how to use the new time-saving software?
How were the salespeople doing on developing the new category of online businesses? Had they had the training on digital ad sales?
Had the marketing department enacted its new promotions for our special events? Were they using all the website tools for marketing and promotion?

At the monthly staff meetings, we reviewed progress on our goals with the whole staff. This gave the process credibility, showed every person how they fit in and gave us reason to celebrate.

(Caution: Too often, these annual goal-setting processes are put on the shelf and lost in the hurly-burly of daily deadlines. Managers lose credibility. Employees lose focus. Discipline and followup are key.)

Benefits of goal-setting

  • They simplify the process of decision making because they establish priorities for how to use people and financial resources.
  • They attract followers and advocates.
  • They help clarify conversations: Why is it that I need to this? Why is our company doing this?
  • They offer a system for measuring success and give you reasons to celebrate, weekly, monthly and whenever. 
  • They involve everyone and clarify goals and responsibilities.

In my experience, it is more effective to have fewer goals. That makes achieving them more likely and, paradoxically, it has a broader impact. When you create change in your organization, it tends to multiply itself in other unexpected ways. It has a positive ripple effect. Staff members see success and then see other opportunities.

So what are you waiting for? Get the process going.


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