Jeff Evans isn’t easily overwhelmed. The chairman, president and CEO of The Will-Burt Co. has watched his company more than double its 2002 revenue of $26 million in the past five years, meanwhile expanding across three languages and four continents. But for him, growth comes one small step at a time.
“That’s a lot of additional complexity that leaders have to deal with,” Evans says. “And it’s up to me to help people keep growing so that they’re able to withstand those challenges.”
He’s avoiding growing pains at the company — which manufactures telescoping mast systems and components for other heavy machinery — by breaking down the big picture into smaller pieces. That way, all 313 employees have a part to play in the goal-setting process as Evans keeps each step aligned with his vision.
Smart Business spoke with Evans about how to set your vision and break it down into achievable goals.
Break your vision down. You have to first develop the long-range vision; that has to be set by the leader: What do we want this company to look like in 10 years? Then we look at where are we today. It takes a good analysis of where you are today and where you want to get to.
Although the CEO sets the vision, it’s up to the whole management team to develop the plan for how you get there. What are the steps that have to happen in the next 10 years to be where we want to be?
We establish some long-term goals such as 20 percent sales growth in one of our markets, big-picture
things. If that’s what you want to do big picture, what do we need to do in the next two to four years to make that happen? Maybe that is hire a salesperson in Europe. So now what do you have to do to make that happen?
You keep working it around to where you come up with a list of defined goals we have to do this year if we want to achieve our 10-year goals. By doing this map, it gets you to the point where you know the things you’re doing this year are linked to your longer-term goals.
Set goals collaboratively. We try to get [everyone] that’s going to be working on [a goal] to collaborate and come up with the best way of doing it. We don’t tell our salesmen, ‘This is your target for next year. Go do it.’ We get the salespeople to help us.
You can’t totally let people set their own goals. It’d be like saying, ‘How high can you high jump?’ ‘Well, I can high jump 1 foot.’ You could do 2 feet or 6 feet.
So we have to help people establish credible goals and challenging goals, but people need to have some input in them so they’re not ridiculous.
Setting a strategic plan is huge, and everybody in the company has some level of involvement in it. Have small group meetings, even down to the floor level, and explain what we’re planning to do.
Ask people, ‘Do you see any issues with this?’ They’re going to be pleased you asked them, and you might find out why it’s not a good idea.
Measure each goal against the vision. It goes back again to the vision of what you want to be in 10 years. If you want to dominate the U.S. market, then you’re going to resist any strategy that goes international.
Strategic planning is really about allocating scarce resources. If you only have so much time and so much money, it’s like only having so many bullets in a gun. You want to shoot at the right things. It’s that prioritization and bringing people back to the vision that’s critical.
One of the key roles of the CEO is to communicate, communicate, communicate. If you think you’ve already told people [the vision] five times, tell them six more times in six different ways.
Some people see it in writing and they understand it. Some people want to be told. Some people have to see an example. But if you want to drive a new initiative, explain why and explain it as many times and as many ways as you can.
Break down measurements of goals. Most people want to be on a winning team. It’s one thing to say, ‘Yeah, I’m part of this team with another 100,000 people, and we win.’
It’s another if you break that down into smaller groups and say, ‘Look at my team of 20 people. We have won also because these were our goals and we achieved them.’
It has to do with breaking the measurements down into small enough increments that people have the ability to measure. If our gross margins went up by 5 percent, that’s a good thing. But if they went up because we just doubled the price or because the cost of steel got cut in half, then (your employees) really didn’t have any impact. But if I measure people on the shop floor by their ability to get work done in less time [than] we think it should take, then they drive that.
It’s all about getting things to a level at which people can be measured on things that they actually have some level of input to. The smaller you can break them down, the better, [like] sales per day. That way, you don’t wait until the end of the month to find out how you’re doing.
How to reach: The Will-Burt Co., (330) 682-7015 or www.willburt.com