Company Goals: Do Your Employees Have a “Line of Sight” to Them?

There’s a famous story from the early days of the space race.

President John F. Kennedy was visiting NASA headquarters for the first time, in 1961. While touring the facility, he introduced himself to a janitor who was mopping the floor and asked him what he did at NASA. The janitor replied, “I’m helping put a man on the moon!”

Obviously, the janitor understood the importance of his contribution. He truly felt he was a valuable part of something bigger than himself, and his attitude created a feeling of self-confidence in his mission. He wasn’t merely a janitor; he was a member of the 1962 NASA Space Team!

How can a company capture its employees’ hearts and minds so they see the link between their own job performance and the company’s financial success? Business execution is the key.

Goal cascading

It’s all about closing the gap between strategy and execution. A company can spend lots of time developing a perfect strategy, but it means nothing if it is unable to “cascade” that strategy down to the day-to-day work of its employees.

Goal cascading” is a method for communicating business strategy so every employee in the company understands the role they play.

The process starts with top management setting their goals based on the company strategy. They then share their goals with their direct reports or VPs, who in turn set goals that align and support those of top management. By cascading this process all the way down through the company, top management can feel assured that all employees are working on goals that can be linked back to the company’s overall strategy.

This is how it is supposed to work. However, more often than not, goals are not cascaded very low in the company. Perhaps they reach down into the Director or Manager levels — but stop there.

Example: If a company’s goal is to increase profits by 20 percent, the CFO and VP of Sales may know what they have to do to achieve this target, but does the company receptionist, production operator or mail clerk know what they need to do? Unless goals are cascaded all the way down to the lowest jobs, employees are left feeling their work is not important and cannot really make a difference.

Putting it into practice

I had the good fortune to participate in a goal cascading exercise at a manufacturing site. Goals had been cascaded down through the management levels at the facility, but management needed help in creating goals for production operators, technicians and process engineers that would link to their goals. This was the first time that goals had been pushed down to the lowest levels.

The HR Director and I decided to tackle this project. There were five (5) different production lines that all performed the same operations. We formed a large team with each job represented for each of the five lines. Since each group had the same operations, all operator goals would be the same, technician goals the same, etc.

The overall company strategy was to reduce operating costs by 15 percent. We spent some time explaining what that meant to the employees and told them the amount of money involved overall. We also told them what some of the other departments’ cost saving goals were.

Understanding the “big picture” helped them see the type of goals they might consider creating. The goals chosen were,

  1. Decrease the amount of down-time due to equipment jamming or failure;
  2. Reduce the amount of scrap; and,
  3. Reduce the amount of re-work.

Time consuming — but great results

The employees were highly engaged throughout the process. They even decided (with management approval) to create “friendly competition” among the production lines.

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Each line developed charts to record their progress each day throughout each month. The team that had the best score at the end of each month won a prize. I heard later that the competition was fierce, and employees were cheering at the end of the day as the results were recorded on the charts.

This project, although time-consuming, ended up showing some great results. Not only did each line achieve its cost saving goals, but other results were equally satisfying.

Attrition decreased by 60 percent for the year. I was told that one woman cried when she had to quit her job because her husband’s job transfer. In addition, employee enthusiasm, engagement and goal commitment increased.  For once, these employees at the lowest level of the company felt they were real contributors to the company’s success, and that their jobs really did make a difference.

Is creating line of sight easy? No, but anything worth having is worth working for.