Does Everyone Know Where You Are Going?

Damian Lang

What if you were organizing a trip for 20 of us to go hiking on a Thursday? And in doing so, you sent us a message to meet in the forest without giving a specific time or place? When and where would everyone end up?

Unfortunately, this kind of direction is what most employees get from management as to where the company is going, and when they expect to reach the destination.

If you change the hiking message to: Please meet Thursday morning at 10:00am under the tallest tree on the Northwest corner of the forest. And, that tree will be visible upon your approach to that part of the forest. Wouldn’t everyone end up where you told them we were going to meet?

For a business to become successful, management must agree specifically on where they want the company to go, and at what time they expect to arrive. Then, they must communicate this to the team.

When I recently asked a contractor what his 2018 goals for sales and profits were, his response was similar to the one I usually get: “Our quality of work is superior to others. We are honest with our customers, we don’t cut corners when doing our work, we always finish our work on time. These things will help my company grow.”

Then, I ask specifically how much growth over the next one, three, and ten years. “As much as possible based on doing these things,”. he says. I tell him these are action items to work at, but if I were on his team, these generalities would not excite me about where we are going and when we plan to get there. Instead, it would leave me lost, as if I were in a forest not knowing what specific tree I am looking for.

With more than 60 friends, I attended the annual Jamboree in the Hills (known as the Super Bowl of country music) 28 times. To get space close to the stage, we were required to do what they call the redneck run. The redneck run is where thousands of people come barreling, elbows and knees, and all down towards the stage in a mad rush trying to stake their area as close to the stage as possible. We put runners at all three gates to compete against the thousands of others who would be dashing for the same space. The run starts at 6:00am and afterwards we wait all day to see our favorite country music stars perform that afternoon and evening.

In the early years, our instructions to one another were to get as close to the stage as possible. Each year we would end up with 15 or more different (and small) spots, but not one large enough for us all to enjoy the shows together.

After struggling to get a large enough spot for all of us to enjoy the shows together, we changed our approach. We made a specific plan to run to the right side of the isle on the right side of the stage and 30 feet back from the stage fence. As soon as everyone knew exactly where to run to, we always got a huge area that allowed us to enjoy the show together.

What a difference it made for a successful run when we all knew exactly where we were going.

If the team doesn’t know where they are going, they are not likely to get there!

We just finished the last of four annual company planning retreats. I started doing annual retreats after reading an article in which Bill Gates stated the number one thing that drove Microsoft to success was having two planning retreats per year with the managers of the company. That was 15 years ago and we still hold retreats every year. I believe a huge part of the success we have enjoyed at the companies is due to our teams forecasting where we are going together and making timelines as to when we will get there.

We hold each of our company retreats off site in December with managers of all departments in attendance. Laurene Huffman, Director of Operations at Malta Dynamics, our safety company, does a wonderful job facilitating the retreats. Before Laurene came on board, we always hired a 3rd party to manage and facilitate the retreats. Here is a layout of Laurene’s retreat agenda:

  • Present the core values of the company to the team. Ensure they are clear to everyone.
  • Have each department manager give a review of the successes and failures their department experienced during the last year.
  • Where are we now? Review the current year’s goals/tasks/financial performance review.
  • Where do we want to be? The financial goals including total revenue, gross profit, and net profit for the following year. Establish 1-year, 3-year, and 10-year financial goals.
  • Establish the sales and profit necessary for each department of the company to reach our overall goal. For example, restoration, new masonry, and amount of work we will sub to other contractors.
  • What has to be done in each department of the company to reach the overall goals?
  • Assign a single person who will be responsible to complete each individual task.
  • Give specific timelines as to when the tasks will be completed?
  • Schedule quarterly progress reviews to ensure those tasks are being completed by the agreed-upon dates.

Once these plans are in place, our team knows exactly where we are going and how and when we will get there.

If you are not having yearly planning retreats at your company, I recommend you start doing so now. Unless you have someone in house who is highly capable of facilitating the retreat, hire a professional facilitator to prepare and facilitate the process. You will be amazed that once everyone knows where you are going, you all arrive at the same place achieving the goals you set along the way.

Damian Lang is CEO at Lang Masonry Contractors, Wolf Creek Construction, Malta Dynamics, and EZG Manufacturing. To view the products and equipment his companies created to make jobsites more efficient, visit his websites at ezgmfg.com or maltadynamics.com. To receive his free e-newsletters or to speak with Damian on his management systems or products, email:dlang@watertownenterprises.com or call 740-749-3512.