KPIs for Alignment

This week’s email contains thoughts on improving alignment by using KPIs.

One of the most challenging aspects of running a business is getting people pulling in the same direction. In other words, getting them aligned.

The challenge is in translating organizational priorities into day-to-day behavior in the trenches. There is lots of room for interpretation in the translation even when people agree, in principle, with the priorities. Or, “the devil is in the details.”

A well designed KPI can be immensely helpful in reducing translation interpretation error by bringing a level of clarity to expectations. If you are clear about what you expect and have a way to measure performance vis-a-vis that expectation (a KPI), the person or people doing the work can be clear about what is expected of them.

Designing a KPI is part science and part art. Ideally, they measure the right thing at the right time for your particular business circumstance — keeping your and everyone else’s eye on the “right ball.”

We’ve come up with the following guidelines for designing KPIs in case you choose to give them a try.

  1. A KPI should define what success is (it should answer the question, “when/how do I know that I’ve been successful?”).
  2. KPIs can be “complete or not” but generally are better if they include more detail (e.g., “upgrade delivered and adopted by X customers a quarter” might be a clearer measure of success than “upgrade delivered”).
  3. KPIs generally are also better if they measure continuous results (reflecting ongoing effort). That said, simplicity vs. complexity is important to balance. Have fun, be creative, come up with ways of celebrating KPIs that are consistently met!
  4. A KPI should be “Key” and have a clear business purpose (e.g., so that visiting eight customers a month might be better if the KPI included four of those eight visit leading to a renewal or expansion of business). Too many KPIs or KPIs that are not focused on meaningful business results will definitely impair focus and alignment.
  5. A KPI should be actionable by the person being measured (that is, they can act to affect the KPI).
  6. KPIs should be evaluated regularly for utility (business purpose, actionability, etc.). It is completely normal that they are revised and refined as time goes on.
  7. KPIs can also be categorized by whether they are forward-looking (predictive — like, for example, sales inquiries) or lagging (retrospective — like booked revenue). Although a longer discussion, a balance between forward-looking and retrospective KPIs produces the best business outcomes if the KPIs measure the “right things at the right time.”

Let us know if you have questions or want some help putting KPIs into play.

Crowdsourcing Intelligence

A simple but underutilized process for making intelligent decisions is by using a team or “crowd” to help. That is “crowdsourcing” intelligence.

We’ve been on the record for a long time saying that “the more brains that are involved in solving a problem, the better.” Of course, this assumes that every person in the group feels free to express their perspective and thoughts about potential solutions.

In our view, the same is true for any sort of decision. More minds and the diversity of perspective they bring almost always improve decisions. This includes decisions that are typically reserved for “experts.”

For example, facing a decision about taxes, you might be tempted to consult with a “tax expert.” In our view, you would be better served by speaking with several “tax experts” and several “non-tax experts,” ideally, while they are in the same room. The diversity of perspective is invaluable. The trick is keeping people’s egos in check and making sure their investment is in helping each other reach the best solution — not an easy trick to master.

It may be hard to always “crowdsource” intelligence but we think you’ll find it worth your effort.

The quotes:

“This is what I learned: that everybody is talented, original and has something important to say.” ~ Brenda Ueland

“A smart man makes a mistake, learns from it, and never makes that mistake again. But a wise man finds a smart man and learns from him how to avoid the mistake altogether.” ~ Roy H. Williams

Brenda Ueland Quotes. (n.d.). Retrieved February 1, 2018, from Website:

Roy H. Williams Quotes. (n.d.). Retrieved February 1, 2018, from Website:

New Year Alignment

It’s the time of year to pause, take stock of where you are, and set priorities for the coming year. Maybe you’ve done it already. If not, use this checklist to focus and align yourself and those that work with you:

  • Revisit your BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal). Does it still work for you and your organization?
  • Revisit your Purpose (or Mission). Does it still work for you and your organization?
  • Revisit your Values. Are you making decisions based on your values? If not, how should they be refined or may be eliminated?
  • Revisit what you Promise Your Customers. What do they say about you? What do you want them to say about you? How can you reaffirm your promises?

Set your and your team’s year-end priorities:

  • Revenue Goals
  • Net Income Goals
  • Goals for People (productivity, turnover, etc.)
  • Goals for Processes (improving and then practicing until perfecting your business processes)
  • Goals for Service/Product Innovation
  • Etc.

Set your and your team’s quarterly priorities:

  • Activity directed at Increasing Revenue
  • Activity directed at Reducing Expenses
  • Activity directed at Improving Productivity (also Retention, Onboarding, Engagement, etc.)
  • Activity directed at Improving Business Processes
  • Activity directed at Increasing Offerings to the Market
  • Etc.

Publish the priorities with KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that tell everyone if the priority is being achieved OR not.

Set a regular meeting to review how people are coming on their priorities (weekly or more frequently depending on how aligned your current organization is).

And last but perhaps most importantly, read Scaling Up: How a Few Companies Make It… and Why the Rest Don’t by Verne Harnish and the team at Gazelles. Apply its lessons. You’ll be glad you did. As always, let us know if you have questions.

Happy Holidays 2017 and Something to Keep in Mind

Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Something to keep in mind this Holiday Season is that emotions are contagious. There are many studies supporting this claim but if you have any doubt, watch how others react to your mood.

The obvious advice is to take responsibility for your own mood and, in the process, influence the mood of those around you. The equally obvious advice is that emotions are contagious all year long… Keep that in mind for a happy and productive New Year!

The quotes:

“Nothing is so contagious as enthusiasm.” ~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge

“A healthy attitude is contagious but don’t wait to catch it from others. Be a carrier.” ~ Tom Stoppard

Samuel Taylor Coleridge Quotes. (n.d.). Retrieved December 18, 2017, from Website:

Tom Stoppard Quotes. (n.d.). Retrieved December 18, 2017, from Website:

Assessing Team Health and Leadership Effectiveness

We’re excited to introduce two new tools for assessing team health and leadership effectiveness. These tools are proprietary to Vital Growth Consulting Group LLC and not available elsewhere.

The first is our Organizational and Relationship Intelligence Survey. It is a unique 360-degree feedback tool with the feature of multiple leaders being rated at the same time. Simply put, this tool identifies who on a team has to most work to do to improve their interaction with other members of the team. Or, even more simply, this tool identifies who’s holding a team hostage with their attitude and behavior.

The second is our Cohesiveness Rating System for teams. This tool takes photos during a team meeting (around a table–see photo below) and, using a Microsoft Emotion API, detects individual’s emotions and the level of emotional agreement among team members. Leaders of teams can use this tool to assess the level of cohesiveness of a team as well as the overall emotional tone of any meeting the tool is used in.

We have used the Organizational and Relationship Survey tool in multiple organizations during the past year. We often combine it with a Team Emotional Health survey based on the work of Patrick Lencioni (of Five Dysfunctions of a Team fame).

In contrast, the Cohesiveness Rating System is fresh out of the lab and ready for trials.

For a limited time, we are willing to implement both the tools featured in this email message at your organization at no cost. In particular, we are looking for organizations willing to participate in the fine-tuning and development of our Cohesiveness Rating System for teams. Please contact us if you have an interest in using one or both of these tools in your organization. Thanks for the consideration in any event.

As always, let us know if you have questions.

Anger and Shaming

Back in May, we wrote about anger being praiseworthy. When it comes to motivating and focusing the efforts of others, anger knows no peer. But, as Aristotle said, “to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.”

The point is simple, being angry works at getting another’s attention and at motivating him or her as long as it’s done with some emotional intelligence or sensitivity to the how the anger is interpreted by the recipient. Too little doesn’t achieve the goal and too much tends to be paralyzing (remember: right person, right degree, right time, right purpose, and right way).

Recent events cause us to revisit the issue of expressing anger. A refinement, if you will.

Being angry includes several risks. There is the risk of paralyzing the target of your anger. There is the risk of impacting others, a kind of collateral damage. There is the risk of kindling anger in others and escalating conflict.

There is also the risk of shaming as anger can unleash shame causing statements that would otherwise be withheld.

Angry people sometimes state or imply that mistakes and underperformance are due to laziness or incompetence or stupidity, etc.. It does not matter if this shaming is done intentionally or unintentionally.

When shaming happens, it quickly becomes personal to the recipient. It’s one thing to be called on the carpet for making a mistake. It’s another to be shamed for making a mistake. Imagine feeling the anger of your boss for making a mistake or underperforming and then add being held in contempt by the boss to the mix.

Being shamed is much more inflammatory to the recipient than being the target of someone’s clean ire. Shaming is ultimately counterproductive because it builds resentment and active or passive rebellion, neither conducive to getting work done.

In the simplest of terms, we believe anger in the right measure is okay and even productive while shaming, unintentionally or intentionally, is not. A subtle but critical difference.


The quotes:

“There are two things a person should never be angry at, what they can help, and what they cannot.” ~Plato

“It is wise to direct your anger towards problems – not people; to focus your energies on answers – not excuses.” ~ William Arthur Ward

William Arthur Ward Quotes. (n.d.). Retrieved October 23, 2017, from Web site:

Plato Quotes. (n.d.). Retrieved October 23, 2017, from BrainyQuote.comWeb site:


Constructive Dialog

There are several barriers to having a constructive dialog. One is closed-mindedness or a need to be right in spite of contradictory evidence. The other is “artificial harmony” or the need to avoid potentially upsetting others.

We’ve seen teams experience the effect of both and just one barrier. The need for someone to be right is both easier to identify and easier to correct. Everyone on a team generally knows when one person is suffering from a need to be right and corrective action is fairly straightforward.

Artificial harmony, in contrast, invades a team using stealth and before the team knows it, members are sacrificing constructive dialog in the service of being polite, not questioning results, agreeing even when they don’t, etc. In a phrase, the team “avoids conflict” and with it, constructive dialog.

If you see artificial harmony invading your team meetings, challenge the speaker, politely but forcefully. If trust is sufficient and people generally put the needs of the organization first, your challenges will be appreciated.

In a recent team meeting that one of us facilitated, people were talking about how they trusted other team members to do their job well. One team member pointed out that that was not a good idea; that everyone’s performance should be probed, not in the form of a personal attack, but as a challenge to reveal their efforts on behalf of the team.


The quotes:

“In true dialogue, both sides are willing to change. ~ Nhat Hanh

“To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” ~ William Shakespeare

Nhat Hanh Quotes. (n.d.). Retrieved October 11, 2017, from Website:

William Shakespeare Quotes. (n.d.). RetrievedOctober 11, 2017, from Website:

Fighting Stress

The content this week contains thoughts on fighting stress as Fall begins and we make the final push to the end of 2017.

It may just be our experience but “mindfulness” is in the news just about every day. Some recent notable publications are: 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story by Dan Harris and Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain, and Body by Dan Goleman and Richard Davidson.

Harris’ story is interesting because of his avowed skepticism about “woo-woo” stuff like meditation and how some bad choices forced him to reconsider and ultimately find a balance between his ambition and a higher level of inner peace. Dan Goleman is expected to do his usual, excellent job explaining the science behind meditation and mindfulness, uncovering “the truth about what meditation can really do for us, as well as exactly how to get the most out of it.”

Fighting stress is up to you because the difference between healthy, productive stress and unhealthy, debilitating stress is typically a matter of your perspective and your motivation to do something about it. Either of the resources above can help and so can we–just let us know.

The quotes:
“It is easy to sit up and take notice, What is difficult is getting up and taking action.” ~ Honore de Balzac

“Small deeds done are better than great deeds planned.” ~ Peter Marshall

Honore de Balzac Quotes. (n.d.). RetrievedSeptember 18, 2017, from Website : quotes/quotes/h/ honoredeba119742.html

Peter Marshall (unknown) from https://www. 244301

As always, let us know if we can help…

Cold, Hard and Unsustainable Leadership

Daniel Goleman (@DanielGolemanEI) tweeted last week, “When leadership is devoid of empathy and emotional intelligence, the result is not efficiency, it is a cold, harsh, unsustainable power.” Hard to say it better.

But what does it mean? My interpretation focuses on a couple (okay three) of his words: empathy, emotional intelligence, and unsustainable.

We’ve known lots of leaders with empathy who struggle to convey that empathy to the people they lead. It’s not that they lack empathy as much as it is difficulty expressing the empathy they feel. That’s where emotional intelligence plays a role. Knowing how and when to communicate empathy is an attribute of emotional intelligence. Our advice to leaders who feel empathy but keep it to themselves is to risk showing others your concern and compassion without fearing doing so will erode your power. That fear is misplaced and you are more likely to see your influence increase as you express your empathy.

The word sustainable deserves special attention because we’ve known many leaders who are effective while being cold and harsh when leading. Indeed, they may have distinguished themselves and be held in high esteem for their “no-nonsense, bottom-line, take no prisoners” leadership. The trouble is this type of leadership is more often than not unsustainable over time. Follower’s resentment of being treated coldly and harshly builds. All but the most hardened followers, leave for other opportunities. While being cold and harsh may work in the military (think drill sergeant), in the business world, people have options, particularly top-performers (the kind you want to keep).

So, we’re back to the importance of empathy and emotional intelligence when leading over the long-haul. Daniel Goleman has studied leadership extensively. Can you benefit from his study and do a better job sharing your empathy with those you lead?

The quotes:

“Sing a little Kumbaya: While love and leadership are certainly two words you don’t often hear in the same sentence, I can assure you that rarely does great leadership exist without love being present and practiced. In fact, if you examine failed leaders as a class, you’ll find that a lack of love, misplaced love, or misguided love were [sic] a contributing cause of said failures, if not the root cause. Empathy, humility and kindness are signs of leadership strength – not weakness.” ~ Mike Myatt

“Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way.” ~ General George Patton

Mike Myatt (10/18/2012) from: sites/mikemyatt/2012/10/18/15- ways-to-identify-bad-leaders/ 2/#5296c74f737c

George Patton (unknown) from: http://seapointcenter. com/worst-popular-leadership- quotes/

As always, let us know if you have questions…

Leaving Subordinates Hanging

The content this week contains thoughts on Leaving Subordinates Hanging.

The emergence of email and text for routine communication has made it easier for a boss to leave his/her subordinates hanging. In other words, it’s easier than any time in history to not respond to a question or request for comment sent via email/text. It’s certainly easier to not respond than when a question or request comes up in-person during a conversation.

I suspect most of us have sent emails or texts that aren’t answered. Or, if they are answered, they do not address the issues raised.

What happens if this happens often to you and it’s your boss who is the culprit? Most likely, you become less engaged in your work on an emotional level. It’s hard to do otherwise when one feels ignored or unappreciated.

If you’re the boss, this reaction is good to keep in mind.

As a boss, you are well served by the advice to never leave your subordinates hanging. More than anything else you do, maintaining the level of engagement of your subordinates offers the highest return on your investment of time and energy at work. It is the leverage unique to people who manage others–where that is their primary role (not as an individual contributor).

Bosses who are task-oriented (vs. people-oriented) will have a harder time adopting the rule of never leaving subordinates hanging. My guess is you know if this is you (because, for example, you will have heard from people at home that you don’t express your appreciation enough). Make the effort to not leave people hanging–it’s worth your time and energy.

The quotes:
“A person who feels appreciated will always do more than what is expected.” ― Unknown

“Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers.” ― Stephen Covey

Unknown (7/8/2014) from: