Achieving Goals: A Process Approach
We all want that sense of achievement that comes with reaching our goals. Whether we are working for ourselves or working within a larger organization, we get a deep sense of satisfaction when we accomplish what we set out to do. Some people seem to achieve their objectives without much effort. Others never quite seem to get there. Have you experienced frustrations such as these?
• Only half of your managers are using the new system after spending over one million dollars on its implementation.
• The incidence of customer complaints continues to rise even after the latest product redesign.
• Members of your department continually change focus so nothing gets finished.
If so, then you may need to revisit how you set goals and plan for their accomplishment. From my years of working in a number of organizations and on a variety of projects, I have condensed the lessons I have learned into a simple five step process. I call this process the Five Cs approach. This approach does not use any rocket science, just the basics needed for getting things done in your organization. By using the Five Cs process steps you will improve the chances of achieving your and your organization’s objectives.
The Five Cs approach can be used for activities as basic as organizing your team’s leave calendar to the more complex planning and rollout of your organization’s annual fundraiser. The approach consists of these five basic steps:
Create >> Commit >> Communicate >> Carry Out >> Check
The steps in the process are essentially sequential, meaning that you will need mostly to complete an earlier step before proceeding to the next. Shortcutting steps in the process will only increase the amount of rework that you will need to do later on. As the well-known saying goes, “The longest distance between two points is the shortcut”.
The arrows after the final step emphasize that the process is also cyclic. This allows for continual review of your plan. There will be factors outside of your and your team’s control or that could not reasonably have been foreseen. The Five Cs approach gives you the flexibility you need to make the necessary adjustments. I have summarized here the most important activities in each phase.
The first step is to create a plan. Write down your or your organization’s goals and in a way that achievement can be measured objectively. A popular method of writing goals that I recommend is to make them SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time framed. Also work out what resources you need in terms of money, equipment and labor. Then draw up a schedule showing who will do what by when.
As you create the plan, it is vital that you involve all of your key stakeholders. Stakeholders are people who have an interest in the implementation and outcome of your project plan. Getting the buy in of the major stakeholders will be critical to your plan’s success. A disenfranchised stakeholder may sabotage your plan when you are well into carrying it out.
As you are working with your stakeholders in the Create phase, identify who needs to approve your plan. You may need formal approval and sign-off before your organization commits the required resources. Whether you need to go through a formal approval process or not, the objective of this phase is to win the hearts and minds of all of the key stakeholders. Your stakeholders may include project sponsors, employees, customers and suppliers.
To get this genuine commitment, meet face-to-face with stakeholders to explain the plan and the purpose behind it. Use methods that allow free two-way communication to facilitate genuine understanding, trust and a real agreement on objectives.
Send your plan out to other stakeholders, including everyone who is expected to play a part in implementing the plan. Use a variety of media, including email, notice boards, company intranet and newsgroups. Make sure that you include methods that give plenty of opportunity for people to ask questions and for you to get immediate feedback. These include face-to-face meetings, tele- and web-conferences.
If some of the people expected to play a part in your plan are located in another part of your organization, then get those people’s managers to brief their people. This reinforces the message that the plan is considered important by the organization and not just you. This tactic also helps to raise the commitment level of all managers involved in the implementation. The objective here is to have everyone involved reading from the same page.
If you conducted the previous three steps conscientiously, this implementation phase will be off to a good start. If you rushed through one or more of the previous phases, trouble will show up sooner or later. You will find yourself missing deadlines, overspending your budget or delivering poor service or product quality.
As you carry out your plan, record what was done and what is yet to be done, resources used and the products or services delivered. Doing this now will ensure an easier time in the next phase. Record also any issues affecting the implementation of the plan as they arise.
This step involves comparing your actual progress against your plan at regular intervals. Hence the importance of you recording activities, expenditure and products and services delivered during implementation. The idea is that checking as you go will help you expose problems and potential problems as they arise. Identifying them and resolving them early will save you much time, energy and disappointment down the track.
You can make your progress checks with your team and your key stakeholders at major points along the way, such as at the conclusion of each large piece of work. Or you can check in at regular intervals, such as weekly or monthly. This is also a good time to identify and resolve issues that have not as yet come to the surface. Keep in mind that problems ignored never go away.
You can handle stumbling blocks in either of two ways. One option is to create a corrective action plan to get the project back on track. You may need to call in extra resources, reassign tasks, and so on. Alternatively, if minor tweaking will not be enough to salvage your current plan, you will need to revise and agree a new plan.
Whichever way you tackle issues that surface, the Five Cs cycle begins again. Your corrective action plan will become a new mini-project that you will create, gain commitment on, communicate, carry out and check on progress. Where you have revised the existing plan, you will progress through the next iteration of the Five Cs of the project cycle.
Right at the end of your project, conduct a final check. Your objective for this post-implementation review is to learn what worked well and what did not work well so that you and your team can use these learnings in your next project. Gather your team and your other key stakeholders together and get each to listen openly and honestly to the others’ feedback. Avoid laying blame. The goal here is to build relationships and to look to the future.
The Five Cs approach is an excellent tool for guiding the review discussion. For each of the five steps, ask your team and stakeholders how efficiently and effectively each was performed. Get them to look at the hard measures, such as resources used and time to complete, as well as the soft measures, such as degree of co-operation and clarity of roles and responsibilities. Have one of your team record the results. If your project was a success, don’t forget to reward yourself and your team for a job well done. Next time you start to embark on a new project, don’t forget the Five Cs approach to achieving your goals.