January is the time of year that CEOs deliver the strategy that has been developed for the coming year. Often, the effort to set the strategy is a long process that took place the preceding year. Decks are make, polished to perfection and a great presentation to the entire company is the culmination. Then what? Strategy doesn’t happen overnight, so the deck goes onto the drive and people ‘get back to work’.
Years ago when we owned our software company, my husband decided to become a private pilot. We used the airplane to visit clients and go to sales calls across the country. In aviation, there is a request from the tower to the pilot to “say intentions”. That means that the tower needs to know what you intend to do. Sometimes, this is in an emergency and the tower needs to know your intentions in order to re-route other planes. It also tells other pilots nearby what you are doing so they know and can make their decisions accordingly, such as to stay out of your way in an emergency landing.
I’ve often thought about that simple request in business. There is a great opportunity to state intentions in business. Yes, strategy is critical to the business but it is often a long-term process. The vision for the business should be hard to achieve, make everyone stretch and take a year or two to achieve. What happens in the interim? Intentions are overlooked in business, yet they are the foundation of an action plan to achieve a goal. Saying intentions are an excellent use of energy to build a brand or business and provides focus to ourselves and other resources in order to create success. Think about this way – why is a letter of intent between companies so important? It is a written agreement of the intention to work together and desired outcome.
Goals are often used as an interim achievement mechanism. Break down the strategy for each business unit or department and create goals that build upon themselves to support the overall strategy. However, goals take time and are task-oriented. This is where stating intentions comes in. In the everyday work around a company, intentions can get lost in the minutia of performing the tasks. If we were to take a step back and look at our work with more intention, would we take the same actions? Would the TPS report be the most important task or would finding a way to delight a customer take precedence? By setting intentions, we keep our eye on the prize and focus on what matters. Intentions are more fluid than goals, which come and go. Intentions are how we want to carry out our work and they move us to motivate toward our goal. Goals are derived from the need, but intentions are derived from within us and our company culture.
For example, let’s look at a sales team. They are often given a large revenue generation goal that aligns with a growth strategy. When I led sales teams, I would often hear in our weekly meeting that the status would be to follow up with a prospect. Often, the follow up would not lead to anything. I asked our team if they knew how many status requests that person received in one day – from their boss or people working for them, much less outside sales people. Once they thought about that, they realized that no one wants a sales person calling them with the single action to follow up. So, I asked sales people to be more intentional in their follow up to be value creators. We started sending relevant industry reports or examples of how our software would solve their pain points. The results were astounding. The potential customers saw their interactions with our sales people as helpful to them and providing value instead of yet another person asking them for status.
Saying intentions can be as simple as making meetings more productive. When I lead a meeting, I always begin by stating my intentions for the meeting. I also like if someone else leading the meeting does the same. It helps everyone know why they are there and what is expected. It also is a mechanism to stop “tangicide” if it happens to get back to the reason for calling the meeting.
You don’t have to be the CEO, a VP or a director to practice this technique. I hear mid-level managers or senior associates lament about how busy they are. While I’m sure this is true, have you stepped back and thought about how you could change this dynamic? Have you considered the professional development of a junior colleague and conducting on-the-job training to give them an opportunity to take something over for you? You can state your intention to help a junior colleague develop professionally and get the help that you need. Yes, the first time can be a little more work than doing it yourself, but in the long run, you will have people surrounding you that can take responsibilities off your plate. It makes the organization better in the long run. You will exercise management skills, learn to delegate and the junior colleague will learn a new skill. That is the essence of a win-win situation.
When you think about your business, think about setting goals around your intention. While you are at it, put intentions in practice in your personal life, too. Think about making these synergistic and that is where you will find the most fulfillment in the convergence of work and home. Your personal intentions and business intentions should not be so drastically different that they don’t converge to fulfill your spirit. This is evident when I discuss the exit strategy of the company with the leaders. I always ask about their personal exit strategy as well and you would be surprised how many times they are not in synch. A founder may tell me that they want to raise venture capital for the company, but they personally want to exit and be acquired in the next 12-18 months. These intentions are not in synch. A venture capital raise will commit the company to a growth plan that will require more time than one year. So, thinking about your business and personal intentions are critical to ensuring synchronization.
“You are what your deepest desire is. As is your desire, so is your intention. As is your intention, so is your will. As is your will, so is your deed. As is your deed, so is your destiny.”
– Deepak Chopra