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PINPOINTING & OBJECTIVES
Setting precise and quantifiable objectives can be just as much of a hassle as identifying Pinpointed Behaviors, and a lot of the time this has as much to do with organizational structures as it does with personal idiosyncrasies. Every large business operates on a series of organizational levels, and the objectives relevant to each of those levels - although they're supposed to reinforce each other - sometimes don't. Divisional objectives may seem unrealistic to an individual plant manager, his objectives may seem poorly defined to one of his line supervisors, and so on. It's easy to state in an annual report, "Our overall corporate objective for the coming fiscal year is to increase penetration in our core market," but what does that mean to the accounting department, or the two new sales representatives you just hired, or the guy who pushes the yellow button? They all have their objectives, too, and if their objectives aren't met, your increased penetration goal isn't going anywhere. But how do you get all their objectives together? How do you get everybody geared up so that the fulfillment of their individual objectives contributes to overall success?
There are two main approaches to this problem. One is the "top down" approach, where the guys in the blue suits on the twelfth floor define the "Big Picture" that the company is supposed to paint, and then pass orders down the line that everybody has to "pull his weight" so it gets done. Managers who use this "top down" approach tend to think of the "real" work of management as long-range planning ("shaping the corporate vision," or some such malarkey) rather than actually running the business. The idea is that, as long as you state the mission with enough energy and conviction and pizzazz, all the things that need to get done to bring it into being will get done. Somehow. By somebody. The vision is so exciting; who's not going to want to pull his weight?
You know what happens with that approach to corporate objectives? Top management starts to forget that it's people who actually make a business work. The blue suits start to spend all their time in the air-conditioned offices, and flying around to conferences, and sitting on the boards of other businesses, and they hire cadres of smart young kids from Stanford and Harvard to show them how to rearrange paper assets, and pretty soon they're making so much money in stock options and enjoying the company plane so much that they can't quite remember what the business does, which is to make windshield wipers or door frames or stuffed dolls. And when they forget that - when they start to believe that the business of management is to manage figures rather than Behaviors - they're done for, and so is the business.
I've seen this again and again in modern corporations. We're so paper-oriented and number-hungry and "visionary" about long-range goals that we don't know what's going on day to day. The average "chief executive" today knows the annual figures all right, but he doesn't have a clue as to what put them there. And that distant, heady view of management filters down through the ranks of junior management, because of course everybody wants to be like Mr. Big. Eventually nobody in management wants to get his hands dirty, and when that happens, you're sunk.
The other way of setting objectives in a large organization is the "bottom up" method, that "radical," dangerously democratic approach to goal-setting where the people who actually do the work get to decide what they can do, and how, and by when. The overall company "vision" might still be set at the top, but the ways of implementing that vision are established, and constantly revised, by people who understand that getting your hands dirty is the only way anything gets done. I'll tell you from my experience on the football field and in dozens of American companies - in everything from heavy manufacturing to banking - that this second method, the "participatory management" method of setting objectives, is the only one that works, long term. I can explain why with two examples, the first one from my Viking days.
Example One: Getting to the Super Bowl
In 1975 the owners of the Vikings wanted to send us to the Super Bowl more than Dumbo wanted to fly. They were obsessed with the idea, and we didn't have anything against it either. We knew, and they knew, that wanting to get there was essential, but it wasn't exactly a game plan. The question was this: How could we transform that Super Bowl objective into a reality? What specific, individual steps did we have to take to get from where we were to New Orleans?
We had a solid defensive team, but had been coming up short on offense. So before we could achieve the Super Bowl objective, we'd have to secure a preliminary objective, that of making our offense the best in the business. We did it by using Pinpointing. We didn't call it Pinpointing; we called it something like "offensive game plan." But it amounted to the same thing.
It worked like this. At the opening of the 1975 season, I sat down with the Viking offensive coordinator Jerry Burns and our offensive line coach John Michaels and made a list of the critical variables to success that would have to occur if we were going to carry our load. For example, we knew from the record books that playoff teams, over the previous years, had averaged four yards per rush during the regular season. So we made one of our preliminary objectives "an average gain of four yards per rush." We found out what the previous playoff teams had done in terms of numbers of first downs, percentage of time scored once they were inside the ten, and so on. And we made each one of those items an objective on our offensive strategy list. These were the Pinpointed objectives that we were going to have to attain if we wanted to get to the larger objective of playing in the Super Bowl.
Then we took the analysis one step further. In order to attain these preliminary objectives, we knew the team members would have to perform certain designated activities - certain Behaviors - that would lead to the required outcomes. So we Pinpointed those Behaviors too.
For example: one of the most common mistakes made on any football team is a lineman blocking the wrong person. This isn't surprising, considering that a pro football playbook might contain two hundred running plays against eight or ten different defenses, and considering that on any given play the linemen have to decide which way to turn in about two or three seconds. It's not an easy thing to remember, and yet forgetting it can be disastrous. A guy could have steam coming out of his ears and hit the left defensive tackle like a freight engine, but it wouldn't do us any good if his target was supposed to have been the middle linebacker. So the Pinpointed objective in this case would be simply to block the right person, not necessarily to block with the right "attitude." Like good behaviorists, we focused not on attitude alone, but on the specific activities that would give the attitude direction.
We made it to the Super Bowl that year, and I give a lot of the credit not just to the drive and motivation of my teammates (that was always there), but to the Pinpointing technique that enabled us to focus that motivation where it would do the most good.
What we'd done, in effect, was to isolate the ingredients of winning, and then concentrate on making them second nature. There's an awful lot of data in a football game, and it can get lost in the shuffle unless you break it down into its components, and then work on each one individually. Putting that strategy together was a little like putting an airplane model together. We didn't throw one hundred and fifty pieces in a box together, shake it, and say, "Let's go get 'em." We sorted everything out, labeled the pieces, put it together step by step - and came up with a championship offense.
Pinpointing your problem areas and areas where performance has to change can be just as critical in business, since you have just as much free-floating data there as anybody does in football. It's fine to say, "Let's win one for the Gipper," but your team is still going to have to know how. Remember old "Wrong Way Corrigan?" He was the young pilot who, in 1938, started a night flight from New York to California, and ended up in Ireland. That boy was motivated as hell. Which would have been enough if wishes were horses. Because they're not, you need the Pinpointing technique: it points you in the right direction from the start.
Example Two: Inverting the Pyramid
My company was called on once to solve a productivity problem that illustrates perfectly the limits of "top down" objective setting. The firm with the problem had just hired a new CEO, and the guy was fanatically gung-ho about boosting profits in his first year. Nothing wrong with that, of course. But, like a lot of "distant" top managers, he thought he could bring that about by exhorting his people to "work harder." One of his favorite expressions was the "up from your bootstraps" slogan "When the going gets tough, the tough get going."
Great expression. But it wasn't going to get the job done. One of the first things we told the fired-up CEO was that if he wanted his people to "get going" he first had to tell them where. And the way to do that was by Pinpointing.
The company in question owned one large manufacturing plant out on the West Coast. It contained six different assembly lines, each one employing about ninety workers, divided into three shifts, or "teams," of thirty. Top management wanted "the plant" to produce faster and better, so that profit would rise. What they seemed to be forgetting is that "the plant" didn't run itself. It was productive or nonproductive as a direct result of the many individual Behaviors on those six lines. "If you want more profit," we told the CEO, "and if your profit is linked to more production, then you start by looking at the factors that control production. Those are human factors. And you've got five hundred and forty of them in that plant."
If you want to achieve your overall, general corporate goal of "higher profits" this year, we told him, you have to translate that goal into a meaningful objective at every level of the organization. And the farther "down" you go in the organization, the more specific the objectives have got to become. For example, at the level of plant-wide operation, the general goal of higher profits might be linked to two Pinpoint objectives:
to "increase productivity by 15 percent by June 30"
to "increase volume by 3 percent by March 31"
At the next "lower" level, that of the team operations of the various lines, the Pinpointed objectives would have to be more precise: they might include "increase hours of running time by 25 percent by June 30" and "increase units produced per day by 10 percent by September 30." For staff functions, they might include "deliver all monthly market reports by the 15th of each month" or "decrease R&D overhead 10 percent by April 10." Finally, at the level of individual team members, Pinpointed objectives would include such "unimportant" activities as "feeding the line at seven units an hour," and "fixing jam-ups within five minutes" and "performing daily lubrication checks."
"That daily lubrication check," I remember telling the CEO, "is just as important to your profit picture as anything being done in finance or marketing. If you don't believe that - and if the managers down on the line don't believe it - it doesn't matter what else you do. You can forget about the profit advance."
In directing the CEO's attention to the "bottom" level of his operation, I was flying in the face of conventional wisdom, which says that the really important decisions in an organization are made at the top, and that if those decisions are sound, the day to day will take care of itself. It comes from the old picture of the "organization as a pyramid," where "orders" flow down from the apex, and are carried out dutifully at the bottom. It doesn't work that way. You should really think of large organizations not as traditional pyramids, but as "inverted pyramids," or as "funnels," where the necessary work gets done at the broad, multi-member "top" of the funnel, and the goodies (productivity, profit) flow down to "top" management.
The bottom line is this. You can't motivate the guy making $12.35 an hour to care about your billion-dollar profit with the same intensity that the CEO cares about it. You can motivate him to do the daily lubrication check and other Pinpointed Behaviors, if he sees that it makes a difference to him to perform them. When (and only when) he cares about making that check will the billion-dollar profits follow.
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