Back when Ernie Wallerstein Jr. was a salesman, the vice president of sales offered him some advice that has gone on to guide his leadership: Identify a potential client’s top three issues and make sure you could solve at least two of them.
“I’ve morphed it into more of a business concept, where you lay out three objectives and you need to map to them, because if you’re not, you’re probably not doing something that’s going to benefit the company in the long run,” says Wallerstein, now president of Zeacom Inc., the U.S. operations of the unified communications software provider.
That process helps keep his 50 employees aligned to core objectives as they continue growing U.S. revenue — which makes up more than half of total global revenue for the company.
“Be sure you clearly articulate what the goals and objectives are, and then make sure that the efforts that are going on map to those objectives,” he says.
Smart Business spoke to Wallerstein about mapping employees’ goals to your company’s initiatives.
Explain goals. I look at what our revenue goals [from the board] are. I look at what our personnel goals are: How many people do we want to add to address that? Then I look at
what our position in the industry is: Who do we want to be at the end of the year? Those are the factors I use to set my goals.
I don’t think you ever set more than three. People can digest three. You need more than two because people are driven by different things, but if you get much more than three primary objectives, it’s hard for people to map to it.
When you lay out these goals and objectives, you have to drop down a layer. You have to articulate [goals] to your different functional groups so they understand how they map to it.
Everybody needs to know where you’re trying to get to. If you put a travel and expense limitation on the company, they need to know why. It’s not because I’m trying to get five more shekels in the board’s pocket. It’s because I’m trying to hit this revenue goal and this profitability goal. We try to hit this profitability goal so we can afford those three extra head count that are going to help us hit our top-line revenue objective. That top-line revenue objective is going to move us up a tier in the industry so we’re a more formidable player for the large companies.
I try to make that communication more face-to-face than through e-mail. When you’re talking about the key goals of the company, that is something that you’re delivering in front of people and allow them to respond to it in front of you.
Solicit feedback. When we’re laying out these goals and objectives, I need to understand what challenges they see in their ability to map to those. It’s not just about talking; it’s also about listening.
Strategically, you have to set social settings in your organization. Once in awhile, have a golf outing or a bowling night out … where people can get more comfortable and be honest with you. You have to be cognizant that these are still people, and you have to let people let their
hair down once in awhile. If you make sure that once a quarter you are setting up some type of social gathering for the organization, you do get a lot feedback, and it’s a much more relaxed situation for people to provide feedback.
One of the ways you solicit feedback is being willing to sit down with an employee and share ideas and tell them how you think they’re doing. The individual managers do the reviews, but then the reviews come to me and we go over it with the employees — how their contributions map to the company’s effectiveness.
Encourage aligned ideas. If I set the revenue goal and then somebody in the organization comes up to me and goes, ‘I think we should be doing this because we can generate another $5 million of revenue,’ I’m all ears. If that same person comes up to me and goes, ‘I think we should paint the walls blue because it will be a more soothing setting,’ that’s not germane to our core.
It’s rarely an emotional response. It’s much more of a tactical response: ‘Look, that’s a great idea; that’s not really core to our needs.’ If it’s something that there’s any doubt about or it’s on the periphery, then you stick to your guns and say that doesn’t tactically map to what we’re trying to accomplish.
If it’s something that moves the dial, that somehow maps back to a number, that’s going to have a significant impact, it typically is worth investigating. If someone comes to me and says, ‘I’ve got this great idea. We’ll make an extra $50,000,’ that’s not worth stopping that person from doing what they’re doing day to day when you’re trying to do $30 million. If someone goes, ‘Hey, this thing will make $2.5 million,’ that’s 12 percent of our overall target; let’s talk.
If you make it a tactical conversation, it’s less emotional. You never want to thwart somebody from coming up with ideas. What you want to do is steer them in the right direction. If you stick to the guns of, ‘Is it core?’ it allows you to respond properly.
It also doesn’t put the employee in the spot where they stop thinking. He’s going to have constructive feedback from me that said don’t forget what our three primary tenets are, and he’s going to try to come up with something that goes to that.
You always want to have that environment where people come up with ideas. I’ve had people bring me ideas that I thought were great. I said we have to hold off on that and I’ve announced to the team, ‘Look, this person came up with this idea; I think it’s dynamite. I’m not quite sure this goes exactly to where we’re going, but I think this is the right thought process.’ I will give somebody credit for coming up with a great idea, even if it’s not one
we’re going to be able to do right now. You want people to believe that stuff is being recognized.
How to reach: Zeacom Inc., (800) 513-9002 or www.zeacom.com