“Put it on the Wall”

Over the past months, I have been very active in a consulting business that I started in 2008. The work has been a pleasure.

I have worked across a wide range of industries and an equally wide variety of projects. The industries have included: tele-medicine, natural gas, retail grocery, and industrial mining to name a few. Quite a departure after spending almost 18 years at The Coca-Cola Company. The projects/assignments have also been quite varied, including: sales and marketing restructuring, board communication planning, customer value proposition development and executive coaching. As I said above, it’s truly been a pleasure!

One of the surprises over the past year or so has been the individuals with whom I have had a chance to work. On the whole, they have been dynamic leaders, working hard to take their organizations to new levels of performance and in the process to build their own capabilities as executives. While often I was brought in to help these individuals with their challenges, I found that I learned a lot from them in the process. One perfect example is Dan, a very dynamic leader of a fast growing tele-medicine company in Florida. Over the past year, Dan has become more than a client, but also a friend, one whom I have learned a lot from. His deep knowledge of his business, his passion for his customers (doctors) and their clients (patients), and his relentless drive to build and grow his organization (and his skills) are truly inspiring.

I visited Dan a number of times at his office, a very busy “open door” environment at his company’s headquarters. One thing that I noted was that Dan had numerous pictures/ photos on his walls. Unlike many executive offices, which might have decorator driven prints, or possibly company slogans or priorities, Dan’s office had a variety of pictures, one of which was of a small jet airplane. Knowing that Dan was a pilot, I asked on one of my early visits whether that was a picture of his plane. With a smile and a gleam in his eye, he said, “Not yet!” My puzzled looks lead him to share his philosophy of what it means to him to “put it on the wall.”

Dan told me that he has been very goal driven throughout his life. He laid out goals across his life and he pushed hard to achieve those objectives. Years ago, he began to capture a goal in a photo or picture, and literally “put it on the wall” to be an ever present reminder of what was yet to be achieved. Today, Dan is a very experienced pilot (both fixed wing and helicopter) and the photo on the wall of a small personal jet represents a goal for his future. This photo is just the latest of many that have been on Dan’s wall over the years. His wall has contained not only photos of potential personal goals, but of business targets and objectives that he and his organization have yet to achieve.

I recently applied this approach in a very simple way on a committee that I was leading. My children attend a wonderful independent school in Atlanta, and its annual auction is the primary event to raise funds for financial aid. I was asked by the auction chair to take on the very challenging assignment of leading the wine auction (I know, tough duty!). After looking over the stagnant performance over the past few years, I decided that the committee needed to work toward a goal of strong growth this year. With Dan’s words ringing in my ears, I held the first committee meeting months ago and communicated that we were going to drive for 20% growth in the proceeds from the wine auction. There was a bit of grumbling but everyone pretty quickly got to his or her tasks. In every communication I reinforced the goal. Every email was titled “The road to 20%.” Every meeting we took a few moments to discuss 20 ideas that might get us 20% growth. By the time of the auction, my committee members were calling me “Mr. 20.” Well the auction was held a week ago and I received the final stats just this past weekend. With a bit of nervousness, I opened the email and read that the wine auction proceeds were up over 19% over year ago. While not quite 20, I was pleased nonetheless. In my own way I had “put it on the wall,” and it had driven performance.

This process of public goal setting, “putting it on the wall,” is an important lesson to all leaders in business. We all have goals and objectives for our organizations, our businesses, and ourselves. It takes clarity and courage to not only communicate them publicly, but to publish them physically. The accountability level goes up dramatically for all involved. It was through the simplicity of the photo of the jet, that it hit me how often goals are set without any public documentation. We all need to work hard on not only setting challenging goals for our teams and ourselves, but to be public – to “put it on the wall” – so our organizations can all share in the clarity and accountability of public goal setting.