It’s something we hear from organizational leaders everyday: how long does it take to see results?
In the words of writer and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “The greatest thing in this world is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving.” In business, this philosophy manifests in the nearly universal pursuit of increased organizational success. All leaders — regardless of the size or current level of success of the organization he or she is helming — have at least one commitment in common: to achieve measurable results and grow their business.
However, even the most adept leaders — who continuously strive for improved performance on both the local and organizational levels — often struggle to know what strategic levers to pull to propel organizational growth. This decision-making process is compounded by the many market variables at play in any business’s success, including high consumer expectations, accelerated rates of innovation, and steepening competition. With so many high-stakes considerations, leaders often feel overwhelmed by the prospect of creating and executing a growth plan effectively. How can leaders cut through this chaos and design an effective roadmap for success?
Follow these steps to construct a growth timeline that positions your business to surpass benchmark goals and fulfill top-priority, long-range objectives:
1. Lay the Groundwork for Success
Truly valuable business development requires you to grow your business with specific ends in mind. In order to achieve meaningful growth in the right direction, leaders must replace ambiguous, lofty goals with a clear, reasonably obtainable vision for success.
Leaders can begin by asking themselves what success means for their business in concrete terms, asking tough questions, such as: What do we want this business to achieve in the long-term? What metrics can provide an accurate measurement on progress toward these achievements? What benchmarks toward long-term success must we reach and by when?
The answers to these questions construct a clear vision of what exactly an organization must accomplish and how long it should take to see measurable results. With this information, leaders have the framework for building a growth timeline to which every member of the organization can commit.
2. Set Short-Term Deadlines That Feed into Long-Term Plans
To many corporate leaders, operating on multiple timelines is not a novel idea. It’s standard practice to have a five-year business growth plan, an annual review to measure progress toward that five-year plan, and quarterly goals that drive this progress. For instance, if board members have told executives that the company needs to have a net revenue of $100 million in five years, and the business currently grosses a net revenue of $70 million, then leaders already have a long-term desired result laid out: to increase net revenue by $30 million before 2025.
Only once leaders have a concrete objective like this for the future can they begin to strategize how to meet milestone achievements that build toward long-term objectives. These milestone goals are also known as Key Results — the three to five results that the organization must deliver by the end of the fiscal year.
In the example mentioned above, leaders can break down the five-year objective of hitting $100 million in net revenue in order to settle on a Key Result of boosting annual revenue by $6 million each year. Achieving this result for five consecutive years will yield the $30 million increase required by the long-term plan.
Using Key Results to direct both immediate operations and forward-looking strategy, leaders can make steady progress toward their cumulative targets and correct course whenever necessary. In this way, leaders prepare their companies to meet or exceed objectives as long-term deadlines approach rather than overhauling strategy to make massive, unrealistic gains at the last minute.
3. Establish Clarity to Promote Accountability and Engagement
Short-term objectives divide larger directives into more manageable deliverables, but it’s critical for leaders to frame these short-term objectives in actionable, accessible terms. If the members of an organization know what annual benchmarks their company needs to meet but have no idea what steps they can take to contribute to collective progress, then the short-term objectives are rendered essentially meaningless.
In order for Key Results to facilitate tangible achievement, they must be meaningful, measurable, and memorable. Consider the aforementioned scenario in which a company must increase its net revenue by $6 million annually. If the same objective was phrased in a different way — perhaps as an initiative to increase earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) annually — the corporation might fail to align members around the result since not every employee understands what EBITDA is or how it is measured.
If an employee cannot understand a Key Result, they will not feel personally accountable for helping to achieve it. Instead, they will take care of the action items on their to-do lists, accomplishing tasks within the purview of their title (things that are merely their responsibility) rather than prioritizing deliverables that benefit the company’s topline objectives (results for which they should have taken full accountability).
Conversely, presenting the Key Result as an annual revenue increase of $6 million makes the objective meaningful, measurable, and memorable for everyone within the organization. By creating clarity around desired results, leaders eliminate confusion and create direction and focus. When employees have accessible targets for which they can aim toward every day, they are more likely to feel connected to their work and engage deeply. This improved employee engagement generates higher levels of productivity. In fact, according to research by Gallup, “Companies with an average of 9.3 engaged employees for every actively disengaged employee in 2010-2011 experienced 147% higher earnings per share (EPS) compared with their competition in 2011-2012.”
4. Create the Culture You Need to See Results
Even clearly-articulated Key Results and an engaged workforce can’t generate desired long-term growth. Delivering on long-term goals requires that leaders understand how to create a cohesive culture. Culture encompasses the many beliefs, mindsets, and behaviors that employees collectively exhibit.
The Results Pyramid® illuminates a set of critical relationships: experiences inform beliefs, which in turn shape actions. Actions lead to results — whether desired outcomes or unintended consequences. As such, in order to initiate real change that generates desired results, leaders must work from the ground up. That is to say, they must foster a workplace culture that promotes the belief systems necessary for driving thoughtful actions toward topline goals.
By creating powerful experiences for employees — such as telling meaningful stories, facilitating teamwork, driving open communication, and seeking feedback that is encouraging and constructive — leaders can create a shared cultural belief of accountability for results. This is because employees who have had positive experiences that prioritize accountability, or the “personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving desired results,” form productive beliefs, such as: I have personal agency in this organization; people are rewarded for proactive behavior in this organization; and when I focus on key results, I can have a tangible impact on the company as a whole.
These beliefs lead to accountable behavior — employees identify performance gaps early, take psychological ownership for bridging these gaps, partake in creative problem-solving, and implement innovative solutions for bolstering performance and driving results. It is this culture of accountability that incentivizes employees to remain truly committed to Key Results, ensuring that the organization’s growth timeline charts a timely path to measurable, long-term success, and not just a hypothetical future.
Executing on a Growth Timeline
By creating a growth timeline and implementing the culture necessary to deliver on the goals therein, organizational leaders proactively answer the question, How long does it take to see results? Instead of waiting and wondering, they craft a concrete plan that enables their teams to execute on long-term goals step-by-step through a focus on Key Results and collective accountability.