On a training run recently, it struck me how the discipline I bring to my marathon training is the same discipline that successful entrepreneurs bring to their business. Running a marathon is not something that you can do without proper training, and running a successful business does not happen by chance. Both require you to set goals, whether it is just to finish the race or qualify for the Boston Marathon, grow revenue or achieve a certain profitability level. The new year provides a perfect opportunity to reflect on the fitness goals you have for your business and the "training plan" that is required to achieve them.
Successful businesses set aside time to reflect and clearly articulate both their short, mid and long-term goals. We all know that in order for any goal to be effective it must be specific, measurable, attainable and feasible. As a runner, setting a race goal under those parameters is easy – it is specific – I will run the Big Sur Marathon and beat my personal record. It is definitely measurable, and attainability is a personal contract that you make to yourself – you want to be able to challenge and push outside your comfort zone yet not push beyond your limits. However, I believe that evaluating the feasibility of a goal is the most important part of the process. If you have never run more than 5km before, setting a goal to run a marathon might not be the most realistic one to start with. The training plan and work required to achieve that goal would feel daunting and overwhelming to most people, which leads to failure. However, if you break this goal down into numerous sub-goals (I will run a 10km, half marathon etc.), the stretch goal all of sudden becomes more realistic and the probability of success is greatly improved.
For a business, the process is the same –an entrepreneur must first understand the current fitness level of their organization so that realistic goals can be set. This requires understanding the processes, systems and resources that are in place for each of the functional areas of the business – sales and marketing, operations, finance, administration and human resources. These goals should be stretch goals that challenge the team however, motivation to execute a plan comes from knowing that with hard work and dedication, the goal is feasible. For example, setting a goal of increasing profitability by 10% in an organization that is already lean could be overwhelming; however, setting a goal of growing revenue by 5% over two years while holding expense increases could make the overall goal feasible. Leaders of each of the functional areas should be part of the goal setting process and should be encouraged to set department goals that are aligned with the overall organizational goals. All of a sudden, the big "marathon" goal becomes a series of smaller wins that will get you to race day.
Once the goals are set, the training plan can be created. Just like with goal setting, the training program should take into account current fitness level. As a runner, my training plan is fairly simple; I need to run a certain number of miles per week over a certain number of weeks to be ready for race day. How many miles and for how many weeks depends on how much running I was doing prior to starting training. I also need to ensure I have all the other resources in place to support me such as proper equipment – running shoes, proper fuel and rest.
The same is true for an organization. An effective plan is created by taking stock of the current state and ensures that existing resources are used effectively while also articulating and planning for the acquisition of new resources if required – for example, hiring new people, purchasing new equipment or upgrading technology. Milestones should be set which allow management to monitor progress and ultimately assess the effectiveness of the plan. It should seem obvious, but it is important to keep in mind that a plan is a roadmap – and sometimes there are multiple routes to get to the destination. The ability to respond to and incorporate new information or circumstances into the plan as they arise will greatly enhance the probability of achieving the ultimate goals.
Too often, businesses don't take the time to recognize and celebrate the achievement of their goals. Crossing the finish line of a marathon is the culmination of months of hard work and training and is an obvious indicator that your goal has been achieved. For a business, the finish line might not be as apparent, but celebrating the accomplishment of achieving a goal is just as important. Entrepreneurs should make it a priority to take stock of all the finish lines that have been crossed during the year, big and small, and take the time to bask in the post-race glow with all of their team members.
And if the goals were not achieved, it is important to articulate and understand what went wrong and determine what will be different next time.
Whether successful or not, taking the time to understand the factors that contributed to the outcome will provide greater organizational intelligence and make your team stronger. Once the celebrating or commiserating is done, take time to document the key reasons for success or failure. This process should also inform and inspire the next round of goal setting because your business should always be looking forward. You may not be ready to win a world class marathon just yet but working on the business's own personal records will ensure success for you and your team.
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