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Program Design, Development, and Quality / Staff Leadership and Management

Focusing on Wildly Important Goals

wildly important goals

If you’re a mid-career professional like me, you’ve participated in a lot of strategic planning processes.

I’ve found that the good ones are inspiring, create a shared sense of purpose and momentum, and result in measurable outcomes. The bad ones, well, don’t.

After leading a department-wide reorganization process in 2014, I knew two things: we needed to do some strategic planning and execution, but staff were tired from the grueling months of meetings. I had to find something different from the typical lengthy strategic planning process – something that would energize staff and make a difference in the short and long term.

Staff in our Lifelong Learning (LLL) Division, which provides enrichment and recreational opportunities for youth and adults in our community of Ann Arbor, Michigan, agreed to be the first in our organization to try a new method. Using the book “The Four Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals” as a guide, the team developed a Wildly Important Goal (WIG) they’d work on as a team for the fall semester.

“A Wildly Important Goal is a tactical goal with a limited time frame,” note authors Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling. “It allows a team to focus and achieve 1-2 process or outcome changes that are critical for the division’s success in the short and long terms.”

The LLL team started by discussing these critical questions:

  • If every other area of our operation remained at its current level of performance, what is the one area where change would have the greatest impact?
  • Is this a change that connects to the heart of our mission?
  • What type of change (process, programmatic, etc.) will make all the difference to our short and long term success?

Conversations around these questions were a perfect opportunity for new and veteran members of the LLL team to analyze their programs, brainstorm and come to consensus.

The result was this Wildly Important Goal:

90% of the 466 youth and adult classes the LLL division offers will “run” in the fall 2015 semester.

Put in the opposite way, the division will decrease the class cancellation rate from 20-25% to 10%. Cancelled classes result in unhappy participants and instructors, not to mention a loss of revenue.

Many factors impact whether a class runs or is canceled, including how well we’re meeting community needs; how successful our marketing efforts are; instructor quality; and if we’re hitting the right balance of repeat versus new classes.

After agreeing on the Wildly Important Goal, the LLL team identified the action steps (“lead measures”) most likely to achieve the WIG. First, they wrote a calendar with these action steps on newsprint that’s posted on the wall of their hallway. Next, the team created a highly visible “dashboard” to monitor progress.

Rather than a screen- or paper-based dashboard, LLL staff chose a more fun way to measure progress: marbles! Each marble in the bowl represents a class that’s offered. Every time a team member is certain that a class will run, she or he moves a marble from the bowl of marbles to a tall vase. As the photo shows, the vase is marked with milestones toward achieving the WIG.

wildly important goals

The team meets briefly each week standing in front of the calendar and marble containers.

During this lively 20-30 minute check-in, staff talk about what went well or didn’t go well in the previous week and their plans for the upcoming week. They identify no more than two tasks each will accomplish in the next seven days.

The LLL staff team is “Invested but not overwhelmed,” says LLL manager Sally Searls. “This process has strengthened how we work as a team and is already showing results.”

We adapted aspects of the Four Disciplines process (originally intended for the business community) to meet the needs of our school district department. The ideas it’s based on – team identification of 1-2 critical goals and weekly meetings at a common dashboard to monitor progress and make course corrections – can be beneficial for any type of organization.

Based on the energy and dedication the LLL team is showing, I’m certain that by the end of October, the vase will be filled with more than 90% of 466 marbles.

For breakfast, I had a Morning Glory muffin from Espresso Royale in Ann Arbor.

Author Profile: @jennabacolor

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