Six steps to setting goals and executing a plan to achieve them
You run your business with purpose—don’t you?
What is your purpose? What factors did you consider when establishing it? Is it meaningful in light of today’s business realities? As a leader, have you clearly articulated your purpose to yourself and your employees? Do your words and actions align with your purpose?
Creating a purpose isn’t a one-time exercise, says Larry Linne, CExP™, chief executive officer of InCITE Performance Group, the successor to Sitkins International. In family, community, and business life, every undertaking should be based on a solid foundation of purpose and the drive to achieve it.
Linne, a former NFL wide receiver and independent agency executive, is purposeful about setting and achieving goals. Lean, fit, and disciplined, he thrives on tough challenges and tackles them with relish. In 2011, he decided to train for the Leadville Trail 100 MTB Race, known as “The Race Across the Sky,” where mountain bikers from around the world compete to traverse grueling, high-altitude terrain in the Colorado Rockies in under 12 hours.
Linne created a rigorous training program and adhered to it scrupulously, pushing himself to achieve increasingly challenging self-defined time, distance, and endurance goals. Weeks before the race he broke his hand and arm and sustained a separated shoulder, all of which threatened to keep him out of the competition. Determined to ride, he modified his training regimen while maintaining his intense pace.
On race day he was ready, brace and all, when the starter’s pistol shot rang out. When pain from his injuries set in, Linne forged ahead with grim determination, never losing sight of his objective. To the delight and relief of his family, and with justifiable pride, he crossed the finish line in well under the 12-hour mark and received his prize: a commemorative belt buckle.
Throughout the race, hot, dusty, and in severe pain, Linne kept his eyes not only on his goal, but also on a 16-year-old boy named Nick, the son of a friend, who recently had died after a bout with a rare and incurable form of cancer. When he received his diagnosis, Nick said calmly: “That’s okay. I’ve had a full life, I’ve traveled the world, and I want to spend the rest of my time trying to help other people who have cancer.” Nick immediately set to work raising money to help cancer patients. “He created a foundation called the Wacky Warriors Against Cancer in Kids and Young-Adults, which raises money through long-distance sporting events,” Linne explains. He says Nick rode with him through the dust, the sweat, the pain, and the hordes of competitors who crowded each other at every stage of the race. “Every time I caught myself thinking I couldn’t finish, I’d remember Nick and his amazing courage. That kept me going till I crossed the finish line.”
This same indomitable spirit and laser-like focus drives Linne as he runs InCITE Performance. Working with purpose, he says, means: “I do the things I have to do so I can have the things I want to have.” By things he doesn’t mean simply material possessions, but both the tangible and intangible rewards of operating a successful business based on a purpose that has meaning to employees, customers, vendors, and the community.
Linne identifies six key steps to creating a purpose for your business:
- Have a big vision, but make a short-term plan. “In developing your big vision, you want to know where you’ll end up,” Linne explains. “It could be perpetuating your agency, achieving a major goal, or making sure your family is well provided for. It’s important to be able to see the future and have an objective you’re driving toward.
“Over the last several years, planning has become less effective because people are making one-year, two-year, or three-year plans. They either hope everything will work out fine, even though things are changing throughout the year, or they put the plan on the shelf and forget it because it’s too long-term to seem meaningful in the present.
“We advise our clients to sit down with their key people and create 90-day plans that will move them closer to that big vision and give them purpose. For clients who do this, I’m finding that they’re moving the ball faster, getting results sooner, and achieving higher levels of accountability. They’re targeting real-life goals that mean something today. Then they regroup and decide what they’re going to do over the next 90 days.”
He offers as an example a company whose big vision is to implement an internal perpetuation plan and whose owners established the date by which each principal will move on. “To accomplish that, the owners know they must achieve certain levels of growth and profitability by specified dates,” Linne says. “If they want the perpetuation plan to be finished in a year, they must identify steps that will lead to attaining that objective. It might be making new hires, improving expense management, or selling and growing at a certain level. Now they’re ready to put detailed tactical plans into place. This approach delivers desired results faster because people focus on pursuing short-term plans and do so with a sense of urgency.”
- Have purpose in your beliefs and culture. “When dealing with an organization, you need clarity with all of your people so they act and make decisions in a way that will get you where you want to go,” Linne explains. “You need to define your beliefs, like, ‘We believe in educating our clients’ or ‘We believe in having depth of understanding of our clients’ risks.’ Be clear about beliefs and ensure that everyone embraces them.
“When I talk about culture, I mean behaviors. How will you and your employees act? In a consulting situation, I ask top executives, ‘What things do you believe in that are absolutely nonnegotiable?’ Then I ask, ‘What are the normal behaviors that support your beliefs?’ Next, I talk with employees and ask the same questions. If the answers aren’t the same, I know this company has a chaotic organization that’s not aligned and is not moving productively toward a goal.”
He offers an example: “At the independent agency where I worked, we said, ‘We believe our purpose is to write a check in the correct amount to our client after any unplanned event.’ What that means is I can’t give you a check in the right amount for a loss unless I intimately understand you as a client, unless I have complete, in-depth knowledge of everything you’re doing from an insurance and risk management perspective, and unless I’m familiar with your business operation. To be able ultimately to provide you a check in the right amount, I need to be thorough and establish intimacy in my relationship with each client. You could ask any employee in our agency, ‘What do you believe in?’ and the response would be ‘providing a check in the right amount.’
“For producers, we believe the right behaviors include being deeply entrenched in the marketplace, building community, and having full pipelines—all are nonnegotiable. These are normal behaviors, and it’s not acceptable to do anything other than them. When everyone knows this and can state it whenever called on to do so, this becomes who you are.”
- Have purposeful staff. “What happens when we ask an employee: ‘What results are expected in your job?’ ” Linne asks. “The employee will randomly list some things, but usually can’t tell you all the expected results. We need to give our people clarity about the results we expect.
“Second, we don’t hold them accountable for running the kind of business we need to run. We put someone in a management position because we need a manager and this person has been around for a while. Five years later, we realize that this person’s way over his or her head and doesn’t know how to take the business to the next level. We may feel a sense of loyalty, but that individual will no longer be able to help us grow the business. Our task then becomes helping that person find his or her next position, either inside or outside our agency.
“We need to be more purposeful with staff and ask ourselves if our managers really have the skills to take us to the next level. And we need to give them clear objectives so they know exactly what needs to be done so they can perform at the level we expect.”
- “It’s still not a democracy!” “This is about leadership, and leadership requires planning,” Linne explains. “Sometimes a client tells me the agency will have a planning meeting and twelve people will be invited. I say, ‘Great! You’re going to have the most average or sub-par planning meeting you’ve ever had.’ Why? Because if twelve people are there, each will bring a set of opinions, and the more opinions expressed, the less valuable the meeting will be in terms of planning strategy. Trying to reach agreement among twelve people means important goals and strategies will be compromised to accommodate all those opinions.
“Businesses are not democracies. The person at the top is ultimately responsible. I’m not saying a business should be run like a dictatorship, but we need to be responsible leaders for the people in our agency. We need to listen to people; we need to ask for advice; we need to collaborate and obtain as much input as possible—but in the end, we need to make the decisions, set expectations, and hold people accountable. There’s value in collaboration, but it’s essential to have a structure for decision making, authority, and responsibility.”
- Have purposeful productivity. “This is a key priority for us at InCITE,” Linne says. “I tend to disagree with consultants who push people to work harder, be more disciplined, and try to achieve motivation through punishment. When I watch these models play out, I’m not impressed with the results. I don’t think people lack motivation; I think most people walk into the office every day wanting to be successful. I think they have a desire to perform and to grow. A lot of producers make a lot of calls and aren’t very successful with them, and I hear people say they’re lazy. The problem is not the work ethic, and the solution is not to push these people harder or reduce their compensation.
“Say a producer makes ninety calls and gets three opportunities. If I work with this person and teach the skills needed to get results from calls, the number of successful calls may increase from three to twenty. The producer isn’t working any harder but definitely is working smarter.
“The fear of failure or letting others down can make you damned tough. When others are working hard for you, you will do anything to succeed.”
—Larry G. Linne, CExP™
Chief Executive Officer
InCITE Performance Group
“You can help producers improve conversion rates by developing more business from referrals than from cold calls, and you can show them how to improve their story and sharpen their presentation skills. You can teach them how to qualify prospects. You can even improve the product you sell and create more value for the client. You can encourage producers to become more involved in the community and create a stronger personal brand.
“Let’s be purposeful about working on the things that improve the productivity of the time we’re spending. This applies to account managers and other agency employees, as well as producers. Anything you can do to improve productivity will increase your results from every employee. We won’t improve our industry by pushing work ethic and demanding accountability. We’ll improve it by being very purposeful in identifying the elements of true productivity and by helping people accomplish more and get bigger results than they have in the past.”
- The scheme stays the same, but tactics change. “This harks back to the big vision/short-term plan model we talked about in item one,” Linne says. “I like the idea of having themes we believe in and stand for, related to who we are as a company. For example, I might say that for this year, our themes will center on being niche focused, pursuing mergers or acquisitions, and offering consulting services. We commit ourselves to these themes and let them drive the tactics we choose to put them into action. Each quarter, we’ll decide what specific things we’ll do to get us where we need to be. For a theme of focusing on niches, for example, we must choose specific niches we’ll pursue and then decide whether we need to hire new people and develop products to meet client needs in those niches. We also need to establish relationships with appropriate carriers. What will we do tactically to make that happen this quarter?
“Don’t change themes throughout the year; just change the tactics of execution and you’ll see higher productivity and better results because you’re being purposeful.”
By Elisabeth Boone, CPCU
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