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Posted by  in Career Tips

Our calendars here at DARTON GROUP still read “January” and we therefore believe it remains appropriate to continue planning for the “new year” and all that it can be.

That said, guest blogger John Munce (“Master Facilitator” and former Executive Vice President at Bank of America) shares with us some of his thoughts, and key learnings, pertaining to goal setting and achieving success with projects, programs and business challenges.

Goals, Grizzled Managers and Lessons Learned

By:  John Munce

There’s a standard answer I give when people ask me about my new year’s resolutions.  I say I’m giving up smoking. That always gets two raised eyebrows.  The first when people say, “Impressive!” The second eyebrow goes up when those who know me say, “But you don’t smoke!”

My smart aleck answer prevents discussion of my actual pitiful plans for self-improvement.  It also is a caricature of a lesson of corporate survival I learned at the knee of grizzled middle managers.  Only set a goal you’re sure to achieve. 

It was a hard political lesson for me. I’m the type who gets enthusiastic about what a team can do together.  I can get caught up in visions of a brighter future.  From bumps and a tumble or two, I learned how to turn my visions of the future into practical goals that still required a stretch.  My record of achievement wasn’t perfect, but I did calculate one time that I was above 80% on my stretch goals.

My wizened elders, however, worked on me to cut back on those stretches.  They counseled never to agree to a goal you couldn’t already see how to make.  None of this stretch goal malarkey.  Make sure you can get that bonus.

The trouble I ran into was that the projects, programs, and business challenges I faced constituted major changes that we didn’t know exactly how to achieve.  Instead of a goal like the grizzled managers wanted, such as “cut costs by 3.5%”, I had goals like, “introduce a new product that requires divisions to cooperate in a way they’ve never done before.”  We had a plan, but we also had to make it up along the way.

The lesson I took from those grizzled managers was useful but different from what they tried to teach me.  I learned that I had to do enough work to form a plan, to see a path to achieving the goal.  I had to evaluate the key unknowns, to identify the key problems to solve.  I had to identify the milestones to hit along the way to make sure I was still on course. But I did not have to know everything ahead of time.

So when I talk to folks a bout their new year’s resolutions in a business context, I ask a slightly different question than “what’s your goal for the year?”  I ask, “what would you need to do to make this a blockbuster success?”  From the answer to that, we can take the conversation into opportunities, to risks, to the foundation in place, to the plans they’ve made.

One thing I know for sure is what to think if I get an answer like, “we’re all set and have it under control.”  They don’t want to talk about it.  And I say, “I’ve given up smoking, too.”

About John Munce

John Munce is a Master Facilitator.  His trademark “twisted thinking” brings fresh perspectives to old problems.  Colleagues say he can find useful connections across all sorts of topics, tasks, teams, and issues.  After one product development session, a business owner said, “My head is spinning with ideas I never would have considered without you.”  He has led or joined six major process redesign programs from debt underwriting to customer segmentation.  He knows when programs bog down from getting too big or too complicated – experienced in keeping it simple, simple, simple.  John is a 30 year student of how people think and work in groups.  He has designed and led over a hundred sessions for problem-solving, process design, product development, six sigma quality, reengineering, planning, budgeting, and strategy.  He’s said to be magical at turning conflicting positions into a common approach a team can embrace.  John is a certified Process Leader and Facilitator for three-day Boot Camp Business Simulator©, a unique process redesign tool from The Tatham Group; a  Six Sigma Deployment Champion, Hoshin Planning leader, Project Champion, Design for Six Sigma, and Green Belt.

John has led, launched, or accelerated change in nine different business groups for a rapidly growing national financial institution.  The change programs ranged from customer service to system consolidation, from building a national sales process to rolling out technology.  John drove improved business units from capital markets to consumer marketing, from technology to investment management.  He has delivered P&L results for brokerage, mutual funds and investment management; sold off divisions and set up new firms; launched the makeover of the consumer banking systems; and rolled out programs of consistent service levels based on customer value across all consumer businesses. John served as the first process manager for a product that crossed seven divisional lines and welded together the sales, operations, marketing, and product management to accelerated sales goals.  John created sharp focus on target affluent customers and on the products to serve them and developed performance standards across teams.  He designed new service models that worked when piloted and the sales of target products exceeded expectations.  John led the development of an asset management account and guided all the stages from concept to naming, from operations to advertising, from training to sales.  The product was rated #1 by Smart Money.

One Response

  • thompwe (@thompwe)January 27, 2012 at 5:22 pm 

    Really good post John. There’s a lot of wisdom there. Dealing with ambiguity — and being comfortable wading through it — is an attribute that I’ve seen as a real differentiator in business….


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