Annual Goal Letters

Happy New Year!  What are your traditions each January?  Do you reflect on the past year?  Do you set annual personal and professional goals for the coming year?

For many years, I’ve had my Vistage members write an annual goal letter to themselves as if it were the end of the coming year and they’ve achieved all of their professional and personal goals.  They then share their letters with their Vistage group in January and hold one another accountable to those goals throughout the year.

By writing the letter as if the goals have already been accomplished, we are able to bring positive emotions into the equation and envision success.  And by sharing those goals with others, there is increased motivation and encouragement to achieve them. 

If you are interested in trying this approach, I’ve included the instructions I shared with my Vistage groups below.  Please let me know what you think!

Vistage Annual Goal Letter Instructions – Updated for 2020

For our January meeting, your annual goals should be written in the form of a letter to yourself as if it is the last day of the upcoming year.   The intent is to look back over the year and experience the feeling of being able to accomplish ALL your goals for the year.  As many of you know, visualizing something can help you achieve it.   As in the past, please add a BHAG to the top of the letter.  The BHAG (“Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal” in Jim Collins’ books “Good to Great” and “Built to Last”) is defined by Collins as a huge and daunting goal, like a big mountain to climb.  It is clear, compelling, and people “get it” right away.  It falls within the space where 3 circles intersect – something you can be deeply passionate about, something you can be best in the world at, and something that would increase profitability/drive your economic engine.  In the book “Good to Great”, Collins mentions Boeing’s BHAG of becoming the best in the world at commercial jet manufacturing even though at the time, they were not even in the commercial jet market.  Please note that the BHAG is not likely something that can be accomplished in the upcoming year.  It is a north star toward which you will strive.  Be sure to include a target year for your BHAG.

It is important to make your goals SMART:  Specific, Measurable, Achievable (but stretch!), Results-Oriented, and Time-Specific.  Here are some additional guidelines to follow:

  1. The letter should be dated as of December 31, 2020.
  2. Make sure your name is on your letter – an easy way to accomplish this is to start with Dear _______.
  3. The goal letter should cover the entire year and be written in past tense.  Remember, the intent is to experience that sense of accomplishment!
  4. Your goal letter should include both business and personal goals, and you should have at least 3 of each for each quarter of the year.
  5. Many goals will have milestones that are measurable interim targets toward the larger overall goal.  Whenever possible, align those milestones with the quarters during the year to make your quarterly updates easier.  (We will again be reporting on our progress to the group each quarter.)  Make sure to include specific dates for those milestones and goals in the letter.
  6. Once you have established your goals and milestones, review your goal letter to ensure that you have at least 3 business and 3 personal goals or reportable milestones for each quarter of the year.  (It is common for people to have more goals in the first quarter or last quarter of the year, and neglect the second and third quarters.  Remember that the goal letter is for the entire year.)
  7. Try to avoid vague terms such as “more”, “fewer”, etc., and replace them with specific, measurable targets.  (People often set goals such as “spend more time with my family”.  You can make it more specific and quantifiable by changing it to say “have dinner 3 nights per week with my family.”)
  8. Look back over your goals from the previous year.  Were some of the goals unrealistic?  Were some too easy to achieve?  The intent is to set goals that make you push yourself, but not to set impossible goals that will result in you wanting to give up and stop trying.
  9. After reviewing your goals from the previous year, should some be carried over into this year with new deadlines?
  10. What could be a game-changer for you or for your business in the coming year, whether it’s something you initiate (such as a potential Blue Ocean Strategy), or whether it is something that may happen due to external forces (such as competition, new technology, or legislation)?  Make sure your goals address this potential game-changer.
  11. What is the most important thing for do this year toward your BHAG?  Make sure you have goals that help you keep that BHAG in focus.

Now start working on those goals and visualize your way to success!

Why Do So Many Executives Work Without Assistants?

Sometimes, there shows a helping hand where you don\'t expect it - be grateful

Why do so many executives work without assistants?  Years ago, it was common for all executives to have a dedicated executive assistant to help them with scheduling, typing, travel arrangements and other tasks.  That enabled the executive to focus on the most important things, such as creating and executing company strategy.

During the economic downturn a few years ago, overhead cuts were made, and many administrative positions were eliminated.   Additionally, automation and computer literacy increased, with many executives doing much of their work from their phone or tablet.  As a result, fewer executives have assistants.

Now that the economy has improved, and business is on an upswing, why are people still not utilizing executive assistants?  When I ask that question, I am often told things such as, “It’s easier and faster to do everything myself.”  Or, “That is a luxury I can’t afford right now.”

Yet I see those same executives working very long hours and still not getting important things done.  They are not taking the time to think strategically because they are too busy doing all of the small stuff.  Their company likely will not be able to grow as efficiently and effectively because they have become the bottleneck for their business.  If they are already working long hours, they cannot take on any additional work.  Most importantly, they may be missing major market shifts that could either provide terrific opportunities or significant risks to their business.

My Vistage members who have hired executive assistants have been able to effectively train and delegate much of the busywork they were previously handling themselves.  Trained administrative personnel can often perform those same tasks in less time and with fewer mistakes.   They can create efficient systems and processes, streamlining operations, and reducing wasted time within the organization.  This increased efficiency often more than covers the cost of the added overhead.

Those executives now have time in their day to step back and evaluate market trends, and create and execute the appropriate strategies for their business.  Most importantly, they can scale their business and grow at a much more rapid pace than ever before, allowing the executive to achieve their dreams.

Core Values and Performance

Core Valuescontemplativechristian / Foter / CC BY-SA

We had our annual Vistage CEO Summits this week, and the speakers emphasized an important point about evaluating the people on your team. Both Alex Freytag and Tom Bouwer of Profit Works emphasized the importance of alignment with core values. Most leaders do a pretty good job of evaluating people for performance. If you have an employee who is consistently not performing, it’s usually a pretty easy decision to let them go.

It can be a harder decision when the performance is good, but the person’s core values do not align with the company’s core values. Let’s say that one of your core values is Integrity, and the behavior expected with that core value is to do what you say you are going to do when you say you are going to do it. Let’s also say that one of your best sales people never does what they say they are going to do. They make commitments that they never keep. Their performance (measured in sales results) is good, but there is no alignment with one of your key core values. What do you do?

If you truly believe in the importance of core values, you must address the issue with the sales person. If you do not address their behavior, you have just sent a message to the organization that your core values are not important. You have effectively given everyone permission to violate all of your core values, because they apparently do not matter. Does that message create the culture you want?

What if instead, you address the behavior with the sales person and try to work with them to behave in the manner you expect? Sometimes, that’s all that is needed to motivate change. If not, then you may need to part ways with the person. If the rest of the organization understands how serious you are about your core values, good things will happen. Those who are not comfortable being held accountable to those behaviors will often leave their own. Those who exemplify those core values will thrive and be even more excited about working for your company.

Please consider clearly defining your core values and associated behaviors, and then evaluating your employees on alignment with those core values as well as performance.

Top 10 Reasons NOT to Join Vistage

I loved this posting by fellow Vistage Chair Artie Isaac (, and received his permission to share:

Top 10 Reasons Why NOT To Join Vistage

Some high-potential candidates raise obstacles, rather than applying for membership in Vistage. Here are some of their reasons.

10.  “I can’t make the time to join Vistage.”

You think your time is precious? No Vistage member has any more time than any other member. We all have 168 hours each week. That’s it. The question: how do we choose to spend our time?

Vistage members don’t participate in Vistage because they are bored or because they are trying to find some way to spend time. They are among the most productive business people anywhere. They are very conscious of how they invest their time.

Vistage doesn’t take time. Vistage nets time. Vistage members report — within 45 or 90 days — that they stop doing other people’s work, start getting home earlier, and devote more time to the most important relationships in their lives.

9. “I need to wait until I get over this hump (or project or initiative or fiscal quarter).”

 Anyone who thinks, “I’ll have more time after I get over this hump,” isn’t accurately predicting the future. There are always more humps to follow this current hump.

Were you humping 24 months ago? 12 months ago? 6 months ago? If so, humping is not the cure for humping. Vistage lets you live without constant humping.

Generally, Vistage members wished they had joined six or 12 or 18 months earlier.

8.  “I’m too busy in my business.” 

Vistage members report that spending time on their business (rather than in their business) with a group of peers makes them more effective leaders.

Within months of joining Vistage, members are doing more in less time.

7.  “I can’t afford Vistage.”

What is your budget for your own professional development? Surely it’s not zero. You must be willing to invest in your own growth as a leader. If your budget allows, Vistage might be your very best alternative.

Vistage members don’t belong because they need to find some way to spend money. They do it for the ROI.

6.  “No, really: I have no cash. We’re on the verge of bankruptcy.”

Oh, that’s too bad. We don’t have a persuasive counter-argument for that.

If you want to have a quick brainstorm on ideas for getting out of your cash crunch, call one of the local Vistage chairs. Otherwise, let us know when cash flow exceeds your cost of doing business.

Vistage members need to have the wherewithal to fund productive change. 

5.  “I already have a peer group.”

Is your current peer group highly functioning?  If so, great. If not, does your peer group have a professional, trained chairperson?

Vistage chairs receive hundreds of hours of training each year. Meetings are productive — and members leave with new methods for leading their own meetings back at the office.

4.  “I already have a executive coach.”

Executive coaching is an excellent resource. In Vistage, one-on-one sessions with a Vistage Chair is put to the test of a peer group. Peers hold one another accountable more powerfully than a single coach can.

The coaching and peer group combination at Vistage amplifies the call for leadership, maximizing growth of each member.

3.  “I already have an advisory board.”

You have friends, trusted advisors, a spouse, and buddies. They all give you advice. But none of them give you agenda-free advice. Their advice always has an agenda: their love and affection for you, their desire to impress, their axe to grind. Their advice might be good, but it isn’t free of some agenda.

Vistage groups offer agenda-free advice. Members give each other their best thinking: take it or leave it. The highest performing members listen hard to what their told at Vistage.

2.  “I can’t trust others with my secrets.”

What’s the deal? Are you a loner? Are you on the lam? Can you even trust yourself?

Vistage members learn how to trust by being trustworthy. Groups immediately study how to maintain confidentiality, because that is the necessary ingredient for true sharing.

Vistage members reach adulthood, marked by a developmental milestone: knowing what stories are ours to tell, and what stories are not ours to tell.

1.  “I can’t possibly learn from other people.”

Is that your plan: to walk alone into your grave? Rest in peace.

Some Vistage members arrive ready to learn. Others are reluctant to learn. But they all learn that they are not the smartest person at the table.

Every Vistage member will tell you: I have learned fundamental lessons from each person in my group.

Thanks, Artie!

Finding My Greatness Zone

My Lovely Magic Mountain

In a recent post, I spoke about college graduates and recommended Jay Forte’s book, “The Greatness Zone”.  Since then, I’ve been asked about my own experience in finding my greatness zone.  I am a prime example of how you can find your greatness zone at any age.  A friend of my parents told me that I should go into accounting since I enjoyed math.  That’s all it took to get me to take an accounting class in high school and declare that as my major in college.  I did enjoy the accounting and business classes I took, yet I also really enjoyed psychology.

Upon graduation, I worked for a public accounting firm, became a CPA and continued my accounting career for over 20 years.  I would still be in some type of executive financial role if it were not for a group of my peers.  I was a member of a TEC (now known as Vistage) Key Executive program when I was faced with merger that would require relocation to another part of the country.  While the opportunity was exciting, we did not want to move.  I brought the issue to my TEC group, and two people in the group suggested that I change careers completely and become a Chair of groups such as ours.  They saw some traits in me that I had never considered, and when I eventually took their advice and became a Chair, I realized I had finally found my greatness zone.

Unlike some of the people I described in my previous post, I was not unhappy in my executive financial roles.  I was very good at what I did, and I enjoyed managing people.  I also enjoyed the excitement of the many acquisitions and dispositions with which I was involved.  However I found that I became bored easily and always felt that something was missing.

Now I know that what was missing was that I am passionate about helping people and I thrive on challenges and change.  I love working with a variety of people and industries, and helping them become better leaders, make better decisions and achieve better results.  Just like in the book, it took other people to help me realize how to find my greatness zone.  And I am very thankful to be here!

Photo by:  Jose Luis Mieza Photography / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA