Monthly Archives: August 2011

The business of passion

It seems that in business today passion is the answer, whatever the question happens to be.  Wherever I happen to look, whatever passes for business reading, whenever advice is given, passion seems to find its way in there somewhere.  Now I’m not a complete spoilsport but I think it has gone a little way from the original business linkage that got this passion thing started.   It might have seemed a good idea for the innovators and the early-adopters to sprinkle their scribblings and their CVs with the ‘P’ word but when one comes across people claiming to be passionate about selling industrial drain cleaner we should clearly recognise it’s gone too far and it’s time to move on.

Image courtesy of Layoutsparks.com

My Oxford dictionary defines passion as “Ardent love or affection, intense sexual love’ and more in a similar vein, ignoring for the purposes of this chain of thought those meanings of a more spiritual nature (although there does seem to be a concerted and increasing effort from some quarters to infiltrate business with matters of faith and spirituality – but perhaps that’s best left for another day).  If I’m generous and allowing for the tendency towards inflation in language, even as the monetary equivalent eats away at our incomes, then perhaps, what is meant is what used to pass for enthusiasm or commitment?  OK, I’ll admit that having ‘commitment’ to or ‘enthusiasm’ for drain cleaner might seem a little prosaic but isn’t it safer than inferring sexual or theistic tendencies in the workplace?

 Passion implies a surfeit of emotion and to be quite honest I’ve never found emotion to be a good thing either in the board room or in business generally (other than in exceptional circumstances and those usually from the leader).  Yes, an understanding of the role of emotion when positioning our brand of drain cleaner in the minds of the nation’s housewifes for the purposes of our next advertising campaign might well be useful.  But as the sole stratagem for building and running a business?  I think not.

So, unless you happen to be charged with finding candidates for the Italian or French government (or certain international financial organisations) I suggest it would be entirely appropriate to stick to more traditional measures when assessing new company recruits or promotion candidates.  For me, I’ve always found that the right combination of qualifications, experience, behavioural characteristics, competencies and plain vanilla commitment and motivation seem to get the job done nicely.

Or have I led an unduly sheltered life?

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Really effective teamwork

The secret of great teamwork?  You’ve all read the books and articles haven’t you? No brainer! If I had to make a bet, I’d say that there are more five-minute solutions to this subject than almost any other aspect of management.  Motivation ranks pretty high on the list, doesn’t it?  Sporting analogies are always a safe bet?  Going for gold, the power of positive thought, pulling together, lifting your game and, of course, let’s not forget the never ending search for the ‘level playing field’.

Image courtesy of Elex Atelier

However, what exactly is a team? Are they all the same?  Do they have the same needs?  An Olympic team and football team differ; the former being an independent team (comprised of individual athletes) and the latter being an interdependent team where each team member, united in a common and immediate goal, carries out mutually supportive tasks. Clearly, the 100 metre sprinter is a sole contributor, having no team commitments other than wearing the national blazer at the opening ceremony.  Equally clearly there is no place in the soccer team for the selfish individualist.

Largely forgotten in the quest for improving teamwork is that in the business world a team is usually put together to operate a system, itself invariably a part of a larger system. Within these systems all elements have to be in harmony and in alignment.

Back in the 80’s, before the Business Process Re-engineering concept was expounded by Hammer & Champy, the Business Processes Management (BPM) movement got under way and I had the good fortune to study with the late Geary Rummler in the USA.  His work (within Rummler & Brache) on organisations as systems intrigued me but it was the concepts down at the job performer level that excited me most.  Here was a system, a five-part closed loop system that could be used as easily to design as to trouble-shoot right down to the individual.  Rummler taught that people were the least likely part of a system to be at fault (agreeing with Demmings’s view that 85% of problems could be laid at the door of management).

Rummler’s five part Human Performance System addressed the following aspects:

  1. The inputs to the performer
  2. The job performer
  3. The desired output
  4. The consequences to the job performer
  5. The feedback given to the job performer

The first three aspects appear so straightforward that they hardly merit comment.  However, in many organisations I have found that at even this elementary level, one or more of these basic aspects could be missing or incomplete.  Yes, the job performer ought to have the right qualifications and experience.  Nevertheless, as I have posted previously, many organisations may have job descriptions but less have a detailed profile of the behavioural characteristics required to match the requirements of the role.  Even training, as a vital input, is often neglected.   The output that is desired must be equally specific in terms of timing and measurement.  One further often forgotten or simply neglected step in the system is that feedback must be ensured in a timely, specific and constructive form.  All pretty basic stuff.

Management inflicts the most damage, however, in the step that is almost never even considered in many organisations but it is the area with the most profound implications; the consequences to the job performer.

People perceive positive consequences to any action that they are required to take as a result of their role.   We all know this; you do the job as required and you get paid, you keep your job and may even, in time, get promoted.  But the overlooked aspect is that they may also perceive negative consequences of doing what we want or even not doing what we require!  Let me give a couple of examples:

Some years back the banks decided (or perhaps more accurately consultants advised) that is was the tellers who had the most contact with their customers, so why not require them to sell the extra services that made the bank more money?  OK, so you’ve spotted already that they needed to provide training?  But what about their suitability to the selling role; did you get that one?  Problem number one is that the careful, systematic types that make great bank tellers aren’t your natural selling types.  But it’s problem number two that was the real killer; the busy folks in the queue are in a hurry and don’t want to wait even longer to get their turn to be sold to.  So who get’s it in the neck?  Our poor teller who never left school wanting to be salesperson.

One of the airlines wanted to find out why excess baggage charges were not being enforced; they knew they were carrying extra weight on most flights but the charges never matched the excess weight.  In those days it was the responsibility of check-on staff to enforce and collect the excess charges.  Now not only did check-in staff have to suffer the negative feedback from the people checking in but they also had to fight their own company policy; how was that possible?  This particular airline had a strictly enforced policy that no check-in line could be longer than a certain length; if a supervisor spotted a lengthy line building, the check-in operator got ‘helped’ (and we all know what that meant).  The result was that the positive consequences of keeping the queues short meant that the negative consequences of insufficient excess baggage charges would be delayed (and no-one could pin down who was responsible anyway).

Often we create systems unknowingly, where the feedback is little and late, the positive consequences of not doing what is required are immediate whilst the negative consequences are delayed or dodged altogether.  But even if the system appears to be sound the pervading culture ‘on the ground’ may be against you.  Many years ago I moved from a high-powered and tightly controlled selling environment into a company where the salespeople had far more freedom.  At my first sales meeting a few of the old hands took me on one side and quietly tried to explain how things actually worked in terms of hours worked, calls made and the maximum over-target performance that was deemed ‘safe’.  In this way the good old guys reckoned that they kept management’s demands within bounds.  They didn’t reckon with me; I was hungry and was soon top of the sales league!  Management hadn’t a clue what was going on though.

So, before you start ‘motivating’ your team, and exhausting your store of sporting analogies, make sure that all five parts of the Human Performance System are working for you and not quietly and insidiously undermining your best efforts.

Have you ever suffered as a result of ill-designed systems?

Love your lawyer

Pre-Nuptials have been making the news again in recent times causing lurid reading for the more voyeuristic amongst us (and some sleepless nights for those without this protection who are planning or fearing a divorce).   I’ll leave it to you good readers to make your own minds up on which sides to take on this 21st Century issue.  However, if you are planning to start a business or have a business with one or more shareholders or partners there is a vital piece of advice you should heed; make sure you have a clear and comprehensive shareholder or partnership agreement in place – one day you willneed it!  Yes, it can be a pain doing it, it costs lawyers’ fees and you spend valuable time drafting an agreement to cover eventualities you are convinced that you’re never going to meet.

Image courtesy of Good4girls.com

However, I have seen many situations where things went wrong and the lack of a properly drafted shareholder agreement made matters far worse.  So, while it’s common in some circles to talk in less than flattering terms about lawyers (perhaps less now bankers have earned their place in the publics’ mind) but, trust me, engage a good one to help draft your shareholder agreement because one day you are going to rely on it.

 Shortly after I joined the board of one company as non-executive director, it became apparent that the two major shareholders were falling out due to the non-performance of one of them.  I arrived one morning to find that one shareholder had fired the other an hour or so before.  Reading the shareholder agreement (over a much needed cup of coffee) I found that there was no provision requiring a departing shareholder to sell his equity.  Now, at the time, the business was a long way from a possible exit but the thought of coordinating a future sale with a long-fired, absent shareholder who had no obligation to sell was too horrendous to contemplate.  After a long and extremely delicate negotiation, I managed to achieve a buy-back of his shares.

 A senior executive of a VC I worked with lamented with me over a situation where they had a long-standing minor equity stake in a family business.  Now here they had a shareholder agreement but one that could fit on the back of an envelope.  My colleague had the right to attend board meetings but had to suffer the strictures of an imperious chairman who instructed him to ‘sit quietly, laddy and don’t interrupt’!  There was no way the family shareholders would agree to either sell the company or to buy the VC out.  The family shareholders simply enjoyed healthy dividends as a result of the separate class of share they held and all my colleague could do was sit and fume at board meetings with an equity stake that was generating no return.

Consider the following scenario; three shareholders have long had an unwritten understanding that they would take healthy dividends and modest salaries (being more tax efficient).  Times get a little tough and two directors decide to make the third redundant.  The third, upset as he is at being ousted from the company he helped created, is consoled with a verbal assurance from the remaining two that, although no longer a director or employee, he will retain his equity and will continue to participate in dividends.  The two remaining shareholder directors instead cease paying dividends and hike their salaries leaving the redundant third without any income.

 Another problem that can bite an unwary business owner in the rear quarters is the lack of a ‘tag along’ clause.  This refreshingly named clause does exactly what says and provides for a shareholder to be able to sell his equity for exactly the same price as that which other shareholders have negotiated with a prospective purchaser.   Without this ‘one out, all out’ protection a major shareholder (or majority shareholders) could negotiate the sale of their equity leaving behind a shareholder who otherwise would have wanted to leave.  Looking ahead, and unless he could negotiate a new shareholder agreement with his new partners (and why would they), he could find himself in the same situation all over again at some future point.

 Of equal importance is the value of a ‘drag along’ clause.  Imagine a situation where three shareholders (with equal equity) have started a company that has done particularly well and is earning good profits.  As their success grows, a competitor makes an extremely attractive offer for all of the equity.  Negotiations proceed smoothly but just before completion, one shareholder decides that he doesn’t wish to sell out from the company he helped create (he is the youngest and, apart from his attachment to the business, and decides that he can earn more from the business if they reject the offer and expand the business instead).  Without any requirement in the shareholders’ agreement to require him to sell his equity, the sale falls through, resentment grows between the three shareholders and the business then suffers.

 Going into business with a partner or partners is exciting (and rightly so).   You’re in love with your business plan and what you are going to create together.  You are great friends perhaps and all trust each other implicitly.   But in just the same way as we humans fall in and out of love with the opposite sex, business partners have their equivalent behaviour.  Forget your shareholder (or partnership) agreement or get this one wrong and it can break your wealth (and your sanity).

 So, before you get into similar problems, get together with your business partners, engage the services of a good lawyer and let them help you put together a shareholders’ agreement that can plot a course through these and many other situations you never want to imagine.  It could be the best money you ever spend.

 Have you had an unhappy business partnership or do you know anyone who has?

An Underclass Foretold

Before the rioting and looting stops and the hand-wringing and political point scoring get out of control, I’d like to take you back to 26th November 1989. Whilst the Velvet Revolution was reaching its climax in Prague, that Sunday, an American academic, Charles Murray wrote an article for the Sunday Times magazine, entitled “Underclass”. Murray is now J. H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research.  Yes, this is a right-wing think tank and Murray’s writing is often highly controversial (none more so than The Bell Curve) but, with a Bachelor’s in History from Harvard and a Doctorate in Political Science from MIT, he always brings a cogent and learned analysis to support any argument.

Image courtesy of TNT Magazine

With the concept of an American underclass already firmly established (though with causes hotly disputed) Murray was asked in 1989 to look at the UK to ascertain if the factors that he believed drove an underclass in the USA were present in the UK. Heading off early criticism, Murray started by defining an underclass; he was “not referring to poor people, but to a subset of poor people who chronically live off mainstream society (directly through welfare or indirectly through crime) without participating in it. They characteristically take jobs sporadically if at all, do not share the social burdens of the neighbourhoods in which they live, shirk the responsibilities of fatherhood and are indifferent (or often simply incompetent) mothers.

 Three Factors were held to be critical in terms of early warning signs of an impending problem.

1. Illegitimacy – but not simply babies born to unmarried mothers.  There were, as Murray was quick to point out, many children living in happy two parent marriages outside of marriage in addition to excellent single mothers (and single fathers) that may also have been divorced or widowed.  Murray pointed out that British births to unmarried mothers went from under 5% in the early 1950’s skyrocketing to over 25% by 1988.  However, the birth rate was not evenly distributed but heavily biased towards those areas with populations predominantly of the lowest social economic status group (V).  However, for areas such as Nottingham and Southwark this percentage was already over 40%.  This was not a randomly distributed trend but as Murray explained “With just two measures, the percentage of people in Class V and the percentage of people who are “economically inactive” the illegitimacy ratio in a community can usually be predicted within just three percentage points of the true number.”

2. Crime.  In Murray’s words “Crime is the next place to look for an underclass, for several reasons. First and most obviously, the habitual criminal is the classic member of an underclass, living off mainstream society by preying on it. Habitual criminals, however, are only part of the problem. Once again, the key issue is how a community functions, and crime can devastate a community in two especially important ways: first, to the extent that members of a community are victimized by crime, the community tends to become fragmented; second, to the extent that many people in a community engage in crime as a matter of course, the community’s socializing norms change, as different kinds of men are idolized by boys and the standards of morality in general collapse.”

Murray then proceeded to quote the crime statistics for England which demonstrated a level of violent crime throughout much of the 1950’s of below 30 incidents per 100,000 people rising by 1988 to 314 per 100,000.  These levels of violent crime are also highest in the areas where the highest numbers of those in social class V are to be found. Murray held that crime had become safer in Britain throughout the post-war period, and most dramatically safer since 1960 in respect of the chances of being caught,  being found guilty and of going to prison.  In Murray’s words “The landmark legislation was the Criminal Justice Act of 1967 implemented in 1968, which for the first time introduced parole to Britain, mandated suspension of all sentences of less than six months, and in a variety of other ways legislated the same philosophy of criminal justice  which for the first time introduced parole to Britain, mandated suspension of all sentences of less than six months, and in a variety of other ways legislated the philosophy of criminal justice–less use of prisons, less talk of just deserts, more therapy and  the advent of “minimal intervention.”  Talk of ‘Rights’ was beginning, too.

 3. Voluntary Unemployment.  I suspect that Murray was quite deliberate in his choice of words here; rather than referring just to unemployment, he was quite specifically identifying those who had chosen to exclude themselves from the workforce.  He pointed out that (in real terms) unemployment benefit had grown to a level that it was capable of funding an idle lifestyle (especially when combined with the cash economy and the proceeds of crime).  However, he also spelt out the difficulties that presented themselves when attempting to move from benefits into work.  Gone, too, were the attitudes of an older generation who would take a job that meant less money each week in preference to what they perceived as the stigma of the dole.

The combined effect of these three factors, Murray held, was driving the creation of an underclass just as they had in the USA. Before anyone rushes to the barricades shouting about the evils of Thatcherism, all of the above trends were firmly established before Margret Thatcher came to power. Murray was back writing in the Sunday Times once more,10 years later, spelling out the cold hard facts that clearly demonstrated that his predictions were being proved to be correct.

This is but a crude précis of Charles Murray’s article (all of which can be found at AEI) but can any of us seriously dispute the thrust of his analysis? We may dispute the causes of this situation and many will as the social sciences and criminology have largely become the preserve of a Liberal thinking establishment. Nevertheless, can you honestly deny either these facts or the difficulty of finding solutions that are not merely sticking plasters applied to the margins of the problem? Certainly, who can now doubt that the Metropolitan Police have gone from being ‘institutionally racist’ to being hamstrung with a deadly combination of political correctness and ‘health and safety’ induced inertia?

Charles Murray closed his article with a quotation written about Britain for a British audience: “There is no country in the world where so many provisions are established for the poor. So many hospitals to receive them when they are sick and lame founded and managed by voluntary charities:  so many almshouses for the aged of both sexes, together with a solemn law made by the rich to subject their estates to a heavy tax for the support of the poor.  In short, you offered a premium for the encouragement of idleness and you should not now wonder that it has had its effects in the increase of poverty.”

 This was Benjamin Franklin speaking in 1766.

And in case you wonder why I write about such matters on a business blog who can doubt the effects of these recent activities upon our economy and on the climate for starting, growing and maintaining a healthy business?

Do you have any answers as to how we treat this cancer in our society?



Instruments of torture

As it’s summer and were’re at peace with the world (personally speaking and despite the economic and political mayhem) today’s post is merely few thoughts on a couple of things that come to mind.  One of the joys of being of a certain age and having time on one’s hands is that one can turn those hands to things new, or nearly new in my case.  Sitting around a couple of weeks ago, I was cursing the fact that my fingernails really needed cutting; they grow like weeds you see and it’s a chore that is, well, just a chore.

A thing of beauty (in the right hands)

However, it started a chain of thought that went like this; I used to have long nails on my right hand when I played classical guitar.  I still have a guitar in the loft (though it’s probably ruined by mice or damp by now). Hhhmmm, wonder if I could learn to play again, then I only need cut the nails on my left hand.

So, up in the loft I went and with surprising ease located said guitar (still in it’s case) and with guitar tutors and all.  Once back in my den, I found the guitar was in amazing shape although way out of tune.  Why not? I thought, you have the time.  So before the feeling wore off, I had located a guitar teacher Chris Marks  (just near me) who clearly understood the classical guitar (if you go to his web site you can listen to some mp3 files).  So, two weeks in, the fingertips on my left hand hurt like hell but it’s slowly coming back.  I’m almost a complete novice once more (not having played for over 40 years) but it’s great to learn.

Speechless at this!

Having been getting progressively deafer for 20 years now I have supported the Royal National Institute for the deaf (RNID).  I can still hear the guitar with the aid of the finest aids that money can buy but this left me (to resort to a still intact function) speechless.  The above is the result of the old RNID re-branding itself.  Now I have seen some real howlers in the field of corporate re-branding exercises but nothing quite like this!

While I get back to my guitar practicing (I have my sights set on a particular lute suite by Bach), tell, me; have you ever seen anything quite like this!???

 

The Psychology of failure

The use of psychometrics in business has grown dramatically over recent years.  Whether used for recruitment, personal or team development, few companies are without some capability in this area (either via the HR department or an external resource, the latter usually for recruitment).  However, despite their prevalence, much confusion and misunderstandings surround the subject.  We seem as far from a systematic and applied use of these tools as we were when I took my first test many years ago.

Image courtesy of hurstvilledance.com

Having worked with both behavioural and intelligence tests for over 20 years and become qualified in a wide variety of instruments, I have been in a position to monitor the ‘on the job’ performance of countless executives and managers from recruitment through to success or failure.  None of us tend to spend sleepless nights wondering why things are going well but I have been pleased to recognise those qualities we sought in a subsequently successful performance.  When things don’t go well, it’s been my practice to compare the factors that appear to be driving the performance shortfall with the test results.  Without fail, those factors that suggested the individual might not have been the most suitable candidate stare out from the page.  So why, armed with this information didn’t we simply reject the candidate in the first place?  A couple of examples might help:

A long search for a marketing manager had reached a very frustrating stage when I met a young lady I’ll call Louise.  We knew what we were looking for in terms of qualifications, experience and personal qualities but the suitable candidate just wasn’t showing up.  So, when I finally received Louise’s CV with the right qualifications and some solid experience, I felt the search might be over.  However, when I reviewed her test results against our desired profile my heart sank; Louise had sailed through the intelligence questionnaire but her personality profile was almost diametrically opposite to our ideal profile…and she was waiting outside my office for the interview. Louise proceeded compentently through our meeting with her knowledge and intellect shining through.  When, at the end of the process she asked me how her results stacked up against our ideal candidate, I had to explain that they just didn’t.  To cut a long story short, we discussed the details of our profile and the job requirements and Louise managed to convince me that she could meet the requirements of the role, even if the test results said it was unlikely.  I believed her and made the appointment.  Six months later the test results had been demonstrated in spades and Louise, at least, had the decency to resign.

A search for a Managing Director on another occasion had some very specific requirements.  One of the candidates on the short list was a chap we’ll call Peter.  Peter had all the right qualifications and experience and, I noted with enormous relief, he had come through our battery of tests, with exactly the right behavioural profile for an MD and with an intellect that tested in the top 5% of graduate managers.  Peter went through the rest of the selection process and emerged as the leading candidate by far.  I was delighted that he accepted the position, even more pleased to obtain some glowing references and we welcomed him on board with a great deal of confidence.  Later that year it was becoming brutally apparent that Peter was failing.  After a lengthy process of performance review, coaching and mentoring, Peter was fired.

The lesson from the first example is that one should never, ever let someone sell themselves into a role for which they are behaviourally unsuited.  Our marketing role was heavily biased towards careful research, analysis and planning; Louise’s skills were vested in her gregarious, outgoing powers of persuasion and she simply couldn’t apply herself to the detail oriented work that the role required.  We both share the guilt but whether you are candidate or employer, don’t accept a square peg for a round hole (or claim you can change) – it simply won’t work.

I spent a long time with Peter before he left us and managed to understand what had gone wrong.  I had had a very comprehensive profile drawn up and a big battery of test instruments to choose from in testing our candidates.  The problem is that there is no one test instrument in my opinion and experience that will measure every aspect, so an element of compromise is inevitable if test exhaustion of candidates is to be avoided.  Peter’s problem, despite his extremely high level of intellect, transpired to be extremely poor judgement, something he had somehow managed to compensate for in past roles.   However, in our business there was just nowhere for him to hide this shortcoming.  I subsequently succeeded in locating an extremely robust (and highly practical) new test instrument that focused solely upon managerial decision making ability that we were able to use additionally to good effect in the future.

Every one of us has a style of behaviour that can vary with circumstances and which contains clear strengths that can be matched to particular roles.  For example, the determined, influential, fast paced and independent individual is ideally suited to achieving results through sound leadership in challenging situations.  One the other hand, this profile has significant weaknesses when viewed against the role requirements of say a forensic scientist or an auditor.  I must stress, though, that there are no bad profiles, merely profiles that are better suited to some roles rather than others.

 My experience with psychometric test instruments is that they are an incredibly valuable tool to use in recruitment and development.  Yet, despite all the evidence, many managers still pay scant attention to what can be learnt and applied as part of a successful relationship with team members.  As an aid in coaching improved performance, career development and team functioning, psychometrics provide an insightful tool for both coach and coachee.  Finally, as a job applicant or team member, my strong advice would be to never attempt to convince yourself or others that you possess qualities that run counter to your normal patterns of behaviour; minor adjustments are possible but attempts to change 180ْ  are all but impossible.  Enjoy who you are and find a role that provides the best match to your behavioural skills.

Have you had particularly good or bad experience of psychometrics?

Stretch that target!

I sit and smile whenever I hear or read the advice concerning the desirability, necessity or effectiveness of ‘stretch’ targets.  BEHAGS, some call them; big, hairy, audacious goals.  Sounds great doesn’t it?  Reach for the sky!  Go for gold! Shock’ em out of their comfort zone!  If only it were that simple.

Image courtesy of Port Canaveral Limo & Transportation.com

The problem comes when some idiot of a sales director decides to set the salesforce a target for the year of, say 20% increase in sales…..in an industry that’s flatlining…..when the company has already 40% market share…when production (who haven’t been informed, by the way) couldn’t handle an extra 10% share without significant investment……and the lead time for a new production line is 1 year.  Apart from any of these factors, as soon as the team start falling behind plan (inevitably), the beatings alternate with the pep talks.  Soon half of the team have simply switched off, realising that there is no way they are going to earn bonus that year and sales take a dive!

Don’t get me wrong, setting your team, division or company audacious goals can work as long as you follow some rules.  I go with the French intellectual who said, when faced with an innovative solution, “That’s all very well in practice, but how will it work in theory?”  Firstly, set the stretch target as a working, theoretical challenge after you have carried out a full situation analysis of where you, the company, the competition and the industry are (and don’t forget the SWOT).  Go through this process with all relevant parties in the same room to ensure that you have both captured all the relevant information and can see where the people problems might lie.

Then, and only then, explore if such a leap can be made.  Consider what has to fall into place to facilitate the growth.  Can production meet such an uplift in volume, is investment required, when is the latest the decision can be made to still meet the target, do more employees need to be taken on, trained?  What are the cash effects of such an increase, can the company finance the growth?  Equally important, is this growth a zero sum game, what effect will the proposed move have on competition, which company will lose share, what is their response likely to be?  Alternatively, can the growth be achieved by expanding the market, do we have the marketing budget and will all competitors simply share in the market increase?

If you sell via distributors or agents are your existing network capable of handling the volume; if you insure your debtors, can you get cover for the planned increase?  Will additional training be required for your own sales team, for distributors or agents?  What weak links are there in the team and the distribution channel, how can these be overcome?  Consider also the effects that your big plan potentially is going to have on those aspects of the business that aren’t going to be receiving all this attention.

Bear in mind too how an element within your team might try to game the system – like the NHS department I read of this morning who arbitrarily struck patients of the operating waiting list for not responding to a request for confirmation (which hadn’t ever been sent….).  I remember back in my selling days when a new sales manager decided he was going to get a more even spread of turnover across the year by making each month a discrete target with a set bonus that could be achieved for over-performance.  Funnily enough it worked but a lot of customers had to wait longer for delivery as having achieved target in a given month we just sat on orders until the start of the next month.  Finally, consider what the actions have to be, function by function and plot a critical path with all of the required milestones and measures.

This is not an exhaustive list, but having considered all of the above together with any additional issues, ask yourself, have you got the key people with you, and are they as committed as you?  If you have got to this stage, have a plan that makes sense and is not just a fanciful wish, have the team with you and you really believe in what you are doing, then press the button.  In this way, a stretch target, a really big, hairy, audacious goal stands a very good chance of becoming reality.  And by teasing out all of the unintended consequences, you should avoid the embarrassment of having to explain why what wasn’t targeted suffered.

Have you ever planned, managed and achieved a really significant stretch target?