Unclear goals put focus on fighting fires rather than planning ahead

Monthly Series: Executive Challenges

Culture Spark founder, Sheryl Lyons recounts from her own past CEO experience, “When the wrong people were on the team, it created huge distraction and frustration throughout the organization, which was reflected in the company’s performance. When the right people were on the bus, in the right seats, inspired by a clear and achievable vision, running a business was fun, rewarding, and extremely profitable. Culture Spark provides the direction to help companies shed their distractions, focus their teams’ energy and empower their leadership teams to ignite their true potential.”

At Culture Spark, we partner with business leaders who recognize and desire the advantages of a strong culture. We hope you will follow along in the coming months as we dig deeper into the universal challenges executives face and consider unlocking your team’s true potential through the deliberate construction of a strong culture.

Challenge #2: Unclear goals put focus on fighting fires rather than planning ahead

Featuring ABC Home & Commercial Services, Vice President, Norman Nelms

When you realize you’re digging yourself into a hole, the first step is to drop the shovel.

When Sheryl came to ABC she was greeted with “welcome to chaos” by an executive. President Raleigh Jenkins and his Vice President Normal Nelms were in constant fire-fighting mode. They spent an inordinate amount of time and energy solving their executive manager’s problems for them. This created constraints to the company’s growth and simply wore them out.  Sheryl was brought in to the leadership team’s weekly meeting and observed these two sitting at the head of the table solving their leaders’ problems one after the other. 

This method of management proved unscalable for a company of ABC’s size, so Sheryl proceeded to teach them another way. She preached, “When you realize you’re digging yourself into a hole, the first step is to drop the shovel.” You have to stop what you’re doing and find another way. She guided them through the process below to stop fighting fires by learning to plan ahead:

  1. She adjusted the framework of meetings to promote team discussion and collaborative problem solving. She taught leaders to never present a problem without proposing a solution. Get the team’s insight then decide how you want to move forward. This led leaders to bring their own solutions and build confidence in their leadership capabilities. 
  2. Sheryl implemented annual off-site planning to ensure all leaders understand the strategic direction of the company. When everyone is aligned on long-term direction and short-term goals, leaders feel more confident dealing with issues and ambiguity, and require less day-to-day direction. Knowing the long-term goals gave leaders confidence and flexibility to achieve goals their own way.
  3. Additionally, Sheryl instituted quarterly off-site planning to support the annual planning. In those sessions, the team regularly assessed the present and intentionally planned for the future in 90-day increments. This iterative process empowered and strengthened the team while adding an element of accountability. The team’s competence grew along with their confidence.

A year into this new routine, the owner took a 45-day coast-to-coast bike ride to raise funds and awareness for his charitable foundation. He told Sheryl he’d never before had the confidence to take such a long absence from his business, until he learned how to truly rely on the team he had built. The ultimate goal that was achieved was teaching the owners to let go, have confidence in their team and truly mean when they say to a manager, “I trust your judgment.”  The power of this lesson proved to be immeasurable.  Norman wrote a heartfelt email to Sheryl that she holds near and dear: 

We believe this story depicts perfectly the lasting effects of Sheryl’s best practices of planning ahead and putting trust in your leaders. These principles strengthen leader’s skills, equip them to exercise their authority and reduce their day-to-day reliance on the C-suite. By removing these constraints, Culture Spark’s clients are better equipped to regularly set and achieve their goals.

That’s our spark, what’s yours?