When it comes to goals and targets — Is more better?

How company leadership can optimize their strategy and achieve more

If something is good, it doesn’t mean more is better. Fish is good for you, but you don’t want it for breakfast. Red wine may be good for you, but there’s a limit. And I’m not sure that spending 12 hours a day at the gym will make you live longer.

How about profit? Well, maximizing profit over the short term is often foolish. Squeeze your people hard enough, and they’ll rebel. Pay your vendors less than they need, and they’ll ignore you. Force tough terms on your customers, and they’ll drop you like a hot rock when a better solution arrives.

Three core values can keep you on the straight and narrow. A dozen means you don’t really have any.

A brilliant marketing or human resources expert on your senior team is good, but add a few more with the same skillset and seniority, and you’ll have a war.

However, the area where I’ve seen more companies struggle than the examples above is with too many goals. (Call them objectives, targets, key indicators or big rocks — it doesn’t matter.)

A hard-driving CEO often wants to accomplish too many things at once — whether it’s goals, systems to implement, customer groups to serve, or financial indicators to optimize, it bogs down organizations. Putting more and more things on the “strategic initiative” list may feel right, but you’ll gum up the gears and frustrate the hell out of your team.

I’m a fan of the number three. Whether you get inspiration from the Holy Trinity; Curly, Moe and Larry; or the Olympic medal stand — it’s a magical number. Organizations perform best when they have three or fewer significant changes to manage. When you pile on more, less gets done. (By the way, I’m talking about the top of the pyramid.)

The problem is that company initiatives flow downhill, pick up debris along the way and turn into a mudslide by the time they hit the people who do the work. If you haven’t observed this, get out of mahogany row and see for yourself.

Even Olympic decathletes can only do one event at a time. Asking people to work on too many priorities is like asking them to throw a javelin while pole vaulting.

You must have an alignment system (and practices) that meets three (there it is again!) requirements: (1) It reinforces your strategy, (2) it allows people to make rational decisions about their work and how to add value, and (3) it allows you to track progress and course correct.

It might be an Excel spreadsheet, a disciplined CEO with a list, a project management office or a whiteboard — that’s almost immaterial. What’s important is that you reinforce it and resist the urge to do more. Do less, do it better, and move on.

Categories: Management & Leadership