Full Disclosure: I had absolutely nothing to do with the Chicago Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup this past year. But when given the chance to have my picture taken with the Cup I jumped at it. Why? I’ve been asking myself that question, and I think there are several reasons.

First, the Cup is believed to be the most famous trophy in sports. I wanted to see it, touch it, appreciate all that it represents in hard work, skill, and fortune for my hometown Blackhawks. The trophy goes to the winner of the National Hockey League Championship and is recognized around the world.


Second, what makes this prize different from the symbols of victory in most sports is that the trophy is shared with the fans for a year after the victory. Each player on the winning team and most of the club’s executives get the Stanley Cup for one day. They can take it to their favorite bar, to their hometown, wherever they want to share with their friends, family, and fans. There are two people who move the Cup around the world to protect it and deliver it to all the cities in countries where the winning players live.

My encounter with the Cup got me thinking about goal-setting and symbols. In sports almost all teams have a goal. For the best, it’s winning the championship of their sport. If they are in a rebuilding stage (my Chicago Cubs, for example) their goal might be to be .500, build the farm system, make the playoffs, or something else that indicates progress.

Most successful teams have a clear goal, a clearly communicated strategy to reach that goal, and, often, a symbol of reaching the goal. (Without such a strategy, teams have a dream but not a goal.) It is interesting that in professional football the goal of winning the Super Bowl is symbolized in three different ways: the Super Bowl victory itself, the Super Bowl ring, and the Lombardi Trophy, which goes to the winner. For some teams, just making it to the Super Bowl is the goal.

I start many meetings with prospective clients by asking if they have specific goals or objectives with respect to growing their business. They could tell me a dollar amount for growth, or percentages, or that they want to develop a new product, transform their sales force from transactional sellers to consultative or enter a new market. Many say, “Let me give you a little background on our company.” This tells me is that they have no specific goals, and they are now buying a little time to decide what they want to say. After hearing about how their family started the business, or what products they sell, I often realize they have no specific goals.

But is not having goals bad or good? It could be either and here is why I think that.

Having a Goal and Symbol: If a company has invested the time to have developed formal, written marketing goals (not something only in their mind,) they have probably considered how they are going to achieve those goals. For instance, are they going to invest in lead generation to get more leads and first meetings, or will they improve their success rate when competing for new business? Will they develop new products or enter new markets? Will they develop new ways to create value for their customers or improve their sales people’s ability to communicate that value and get paid for it?

Not only does their goal setting help foster thought about implementation of tactical and strategic activities, but it gives everyone involved a sense of where the company is going and, best case, what roles they are to play. The Blackhawks stayed together as a team during the strike-shortened season and focused on the process of staying in shape so they were ready when the season started. They had one eye on the Cup but an immediate focus on the process that would take them to the goal.

The risk is that the obsession of meeting the goal becomes so great that the integrity of the process is lost-for example, think Enron, WorldCom, and a long list of other corporate failures. In these cases too much focus on the outcome, and too little on the integrity of the process, gets such companies in trouble.

Not Having a Goal or Symbol: Sometimes this approach is best because the company focuses on the process that represents best practices, which they can control, versus outcome, which they cannot. They understand that they can increase the odds of affecting the outcome if they follow best practices. Companies with this strategy try to do their best and believe growth will happen if they do the right things in the areas they control.

Here is an interesting comparison: The Cubs have made the flag with a “W” for winning famous by flying it at Wrigley Field the few times they do win. They talk a lot about getting a “W.” On the other hand, Coach K in Duke basketball has said he would rather play a game well and lose than play a game poorly and win: “You will never hear my players say ‘Well, we got the W.'” Make no mistake, Coach K wants to win as badly as anybody, but he cares about several other things more.

So there is risk if you don’t have a goal and a strong symbol to represent it; and there is risk if you focus too much on outcome and not on process. Which approach is right? Like everything else in life the answer is most likely a combination of setting goals and emphasizing process. Have a goal and create a symbol to represent the goal but make sure that the participants don’t get so focused on the goal or symbol that their performance loses its integrity.

If you’d like to discuss your approach to growth, please contact me at 847-446-0008 or pkrone@productivestrategies.com.


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