It’s not uncommon to hear statements like “I think this will help us achieve that target,” or “I hope this change in process will get us to where we need to be” from operations managers when it comes to new goals or targets being defined for the year. But hope is not a strategy, and a wish is not a plan. It is necessary for organizations to create a plan to ensure that the improvement work they are doing will impact their True North enough to achieve the goal.
Here’s one example to illustrate this point: let’s say your teenager is working towards saving up for a car. They have done some research and understand that they need to have $10,000 in savings to purchase the vehicle, insurance, taxes, and contingency. As a parent, you may dread or welcome their desire to become independent. As a parental coach, do you pat them on the back and say “good luck” or do you take the coaching opportunity to encourage them to set and achieve a goal?
My guess is that most parents would take the coaching opportunity, so why do we often rely on a hope or a wish in our work life? Below are some important concepts to keep in mind when it comes to setting goals and the strategies to achieve them:
Timeframes are critical when setting plans
A goal should not only include how much needs to be achieved but also contain a time element. The time element will influence our actions in achieving our goal.
Take the above scenario, if your teenager sets out a goal to save $1/day, they would achieve their goal in 27 years (not including inflation) to save $10,000 with this strategy. While this seems like an extreme example, I often see goals set without a timeline. When this happens, people do not realize how that sets the tone for improvement. If you asked your teenager how they were progressing on their savings, they could honestly report that their savings are improving and hope to reach their goal.
Now let’s take the same goal above but this now add a time element. Your teenager wants to save $10,000 to own their own car in one year. Now that goal can be broken down into how it might be achieved.
Make sure that the pieces add up to the whole
It is unlikely that a countermeasure or improvement idea will single-handedly accomplish a goal. I see many organizations set good goals, but that is where their performance management system stops. I advise that you think realistically about what portion of the goal can be attained with each element that will impact the goal. When the parts add up they should meet or surpass the set goal.
Returning to the car purchasing example, your teenager could earn money in many ways throughout the year including working jobs during the school year, the holidays, and the summer. They could also save up their birthday money and Christmas money. Let’s say they typically receive $200 in birthday cash and $300 in Christmas presents. Since $500 is nowhere near enough money for them to purchase the car they will need to think of some other ways to attain their goal. Maybe your teenager spends their summer break babysitting, which pays $400 per week. After the 12-week summer this will add up to $4800. In addition, they could have an opportunity to referee soccer games for $200 per week, for 20 weeks per year ($4000/yr).
When we add all the money that your teenager is projected to earn, we are still short of the $10,000 goal.
Adjustments might be necessary to fill the gaps
If our plan does not add up, then we must adjust our plans to achieve our goal. This is where organizations tend to struggle most often. When the plan was created, and countermeasures identified, the organization did not take the time to think through whether the items they chose would add up to achieve the end goal.
Back to the example, your teenager will earn $9,300 if they follow the plan they set forth and if everything works out as anticipated. So, they decide that instead of going on a ski trip with their friends over winter break they will bus tables for holiday parties for $75 per night. There are ten parties on the schedule, so they will earn an additional $750. This is enough to push them above their goal.
Maximizing your improvement efforts is about understanding how the parts add up to the whole and developing a plan that will help you achieve your improvement targets. Understanding the parts will help you make decisions about the improvements you should focus on as well as help you make a greater impact on your organization’s True North metrics.
Theresa Moore, Staff and Faculty
Maximizing Your Improvement workshop
Catalysis Healthcare Value Network