Most businesses have a long-term vision and core strategic goals. But many struggle to make them a reality. The problem often arises because the strategic goals are so overarching and distant, that they aren’t focused on consistently among the day-to-day direction.
Deeper cultural issues typically underly the problem. Often, there is no clear link between the people working on important projects and the business outcomes targeted. People may be toiling on tech projects to improve website functionality or automate processes yet have no idea of the ultimate goals that those tasks are designed to feed, such as achieving a specific percentage increase in conversion or customer retention.
There is a better way. When people understand clearly what they are working towards and why, it is highly motivational. It changes how they approach their work. They will try different ways of achieving the same goals and become significantly more innovative.
The successful approach involves using empiricism, the recognition that knowledge comes from evidence and first-hand experiences. This approach involves staff noting exactly what is happening at various stages of a project and regularly matching their progress against ultimate goals.
It also means creating intermediate and sprint goals within the larger targets. Intermediate goals are set along the way, essential for overall success. Sprint goals are the specific smaller achievements that move teams towards the intermediate goals.
To use a human example: imagine I were to weigh 120kg, and wanted to lose 40kg in a year. Within the year, it would be easy to lose sight of making steady progress towards that goal. So, I would split my main goal of losing 40kg in a year into intermediate targets of losing 3.5kg every month. But achieving those intermediate targets relies on small sprint goals, such as making a weekly meal plan, joining a gym, using the treadmill twice a week and riding my bike to work two days a week.
Crucially, with these sprint and intermediate goals, there is regular achievement, measurement, and accountability. They allow for early course correction. They are outcome oriented and focused, rather than just being some task that the team has to perform, and can be measured against the strategic goal, to make its progress transparent.
In business: A hotel bookings company might be targeting full automation in two years, replacing costly phone-based or in-person bookings. Its intermediate goal, in one year, might be to have automated 50% of processes. Its sprint goals would then be to survey customers to understand their requirements around automated booking, create easier and shorter forms, improve the website layout, then introduce a chatbot that helps customers complete the booking process. The sprint goals’ outcomes would also be measured continuously, to check on progress being made and whether there is a need to adapt.
We’ve been on this journey at GfK, in a drive to further improve our project measurement, transparency and adaptability. To maximize our efficiency in driving towards this goal, we’ve split the required changes into intermediate goals, with numerous sprint goals in between.
Every two months we have a review meeting with all product teams, to inspect and adapt. We look at the overall task, and measure against it what has changed. If we’re not achieving our targets or need to adapt the targets, this regular review gives us immediate flexibility to shift course. Our focus on evidence-based change, and transparent accountability, means we are witnessing a dramatic enhancement in our ability to hit larger goals successfully.
Looking ahead, what excites me most is the ability to continue experimenting in my own, and my teams’, breakdown of projects to hit ultimate goals. This way of working identifies everyone as a direct part of the big picture and specifies the contribution they need to deliver. By breaking down a strategic goal into smaller goals like intermediate and sprint goals, making them outcome focused, measuring them continuously, and adapting the direction towards the ultimate goal, we achieve the desired outcome. To sum it all up: it might take longer to achieve the desired result, but the end result will be the one desired.
GfK is recruiting! We have various tech roles open, and we welcome applications from everyone – with or without a tech background. Find out more at gfk.com/careers.