Managing Performance: Avoid Getting Hit on the Forehead with a Brick!

You will — if you don't align performance measurement with business objectives. [July 25, 2013]

by John Fitzpatrick, Avalon Foster Group [Author's Profile]

Reflecting back on the last two years of starting and building Avalon Foster Group, I'm amazed at how much I have grown personally and professionally. I guess it's interesting to me because I already founded a successful company back in 1993 with PCIQ, Inc. Subsequently, I became part of a highly polished management and government relations consulting firm. Why hadn't I fully developed? Why was I having personal and professional challenges with starting a business for the second time? I mean, come on! Been there, done that—right?

I have always been an intellectual sponge when it came to topics of personal and professional development. I have listened to Tony Robbins' "Personal Power" so many times that I can recite it back to you word-for-word without pausing. I listen to Ted Talks at least once or twice weekly, and I relentlessly seek and devour information on industry best practices in OD, leadership, management development, and strategic analysis.

Last November, I attended an event at one of our finer Gettysburg dining establishments, organized by our regional Business Chamber here in Pennsylvania. It was the Chamber's annual meeting, so there were awards to hand out, people to be recognized, and a keynote speaker on tap—appropriately from Dale Carnegie. I took a Dale Carnegie sales course back in 1987 and found it very useful in helping me to succeed as budding young sales professional at ADP. So being an exuberant consumer of knowledge on everything that entails employee performance and business strategy, I wasn't expecting to hear anything life-changing, but I must admit I was open to it.

The Dale Carnegie representative provided many inspiring words and anecdotes, but there was one message that made the difference for me. The story is quite simple and humorous actually, but it really got the point across. He described how he had recently purchased a new riding lawn mower, which he was extremely excited about. Upon his maiden voyage with it, he made sure the tank was full of gas, that the tires had the correct pressure, and that the oil levels were correct as per the owner's manual. To take full advantage of the high-performance machine, he poured himself a large thermally protected beverage to put in the lawn tractor's state-of-the-art cup holder to help stave off the sweltering heat. When all systems were a "go," he mounted the machine and began mowing his large parcel of land. After about 20 minutes of driving in the 90-degree heat, with sweat visibly emerging from garments, he looked around and realized that not a blade of grass had been cut! You see, in his excitement to implement the use of his new high-end lawn grooming equipment, he forgot to engage the blade!

Similarly, have you ever felt like you were making progress because you had all the resources you needed and you were actively working on job-related tasks, but after looking around you realized you weren't making significant progress toward your goals? Many of us go through our daily work lives and forget to "engage the blade." For me, his message hit me in the forehead like a BRICK! It literally forced me into my own analysis of what I was doing wrong, or not doing at all. What was keeping me from hitting my goals? I had to look back on some of the very tools I teach and consult on to find the answer. And found that it was the perfect case of the Shoemaker's Son. 

"Many of us go through our daily work lives and forget to engage the blade.

For me, his message hit me in the forehead like a BRICK!" 

Business strategy and goals

One thing I came to terms with a long time ago is that I love the learning and development field. It's in my DNA. For those of you who are familiar with Myers-Briggs assessments, I am an ENFP—Extraverted, iNtuitive, Feeling, Perceiving. Translated into the real world it means that I have a good predisposition for engaging people, and for teaching and consulting, creativity, and for visualizing the "future-state" in planning. But when it comes to things like organizing and prioritizing tasks, handling conflict, and segmenting accomplishments? Let's just say my DNA walked right past those attributes.

So what does this mean in terms of my business strategy and goals? For me, this means that I am strongly capable of creating a beautiful vision of what I want my company to be, but to achieve that vision I need the support of someone with a logical and task focus to help evaluate my vision and break it down into progressive accomplishments.

Not having those accomplishments charted affected my performance. I was so overwhelmed by wanting to get to the "end-state" that I lost focus and at times experienced near mental and emotional shut-down! My remedy for this now is seeking the support of trusted advisors who have other strengths that can balance my own with charting a course for success. People who truly want to see me and Avalon Foster Group succeed, and who will tell me when I'm not engaging the blade. I strive to build more of these relationships every day, and will continue to for as long as I manage the company.

Measuring performance

Measuring performance is key. Whether you're a startup organization, or publically traded, the only way you can tell if you're getting closer to your goals is by measuring. While starting Avalon Foster, I was focused on activities like developing our website content, researching, identifying strategic partners, setting up vendor relationships. Things were getting done, but it was like walking through the forest without a map and compass. With no predefined accomplishments (landmarks) identified, there was nothing to help me understand where I was in relationship to my business goals. I mean, this is performance management 101 right? 

"Whether you're a startup organization, or publically traded, the only way you can

tell if you're getting closer to your goals is by measuring." 

This is what I show other people to do, but because Avalon Foster was a startup consulting firm and not a more complex mid- to large-size manufacturer, for example, I overlooked our own need to identify accomplishments, create performance indicators, and measure them. That has been rectified, but let me just say that no matter what size company you are, you must have concrete ways to measure success in the form of reaching accomplishments that include revenue, products sold, cost reductions, customer satisfaction levels, employee engagement and more. Accomplishments should be measured at all levels including organization, division, team, and individual. How else will you know if you're "engaging the blade"?

So what does engaging the blade mean for you, for your team, or for your organization? Do you know where you stand relative to your goals? Do you have a means to understand where you need to make changes to make better progress at reaching your business outcomes? For anyone out there who is challenged with making progress, or knows that something is being left off the table, I hope my own experience will help you avoid getting hit in the forehead with a brick!


July 25, 2013
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