Want It In 2021? Measure It.

Barron‘s - January 7, 2021


Think back to the start of the new year one year ago, and the goals you had for yourself and your team. What were those goals? Were many of them (or any of them) achieved? Did too many get shelved amid the new rhythms of doing business virtually?

As we embark on a new year that’s starting out with a bumpy ride, what key initiatives do you consider to be your top priorities to take your team to the next level?

To answer that question, I recommend following these steps:

1.Collaboratively set the goals. Many times, I’ve seen leaders set goals and then roll them out to their co-workers. This authoritarian approach to goal-setting may result in compliance and maybe even some achievement, but rarely does it result in genuine enthusiasm, creativity, and discretionary effort.

On the other hand, collaborative goal setting can result in strong buy-in and excitement that propels the team to success. I encourage leaders to provide their co-workers with some high-level concepts or direction and then invite their team to share what they believe should be the priorities. Eric W. Bennett, chief investment officer and co-founder of Tolleson Wealth Management in Dallas, which is one of my clients, says, “I am very intentional about having an engaging brainstorming process with my team that results in our team goals, not my goals. When doing goal planning, we create an environment that encourages people to think differently, creatively, and candidly. I believe this results in more engagement and buy-in from the team, and better ideas than if I was just pushing my own goals on the team.”

2. Establish specific measurements of success. For each goal, answer questions such as: • What quantitative measurements will be established to gauge success? • Instead of just one measurement at the end, can milestones along the way be established? • What dates apply to each measurement? • Who is specifically responsible for each goal’s achievement? • Do team members feel like they are in control of their success?

3.Constantly communicate progress. Map out a communication plan with your team. Come to agreement about who is responsible for sharing progress for each goal, plus when and how that person will share updates about progress.

4.Celebrate achievements along the way and at completion. In the competitive financial services industry, many leaders do not make celebrating achievements a priority. When a goal is achieved, many times they’re already moving on to the next topic without genuinely celebrating and acknowledging success. Financial rewards are great but they do not take the place of emotionally engaging the team by celebrating success together.

In terms of specific goals, I’ve observed teams frequently focus on initiatives related to technology upgrades, sales, activity-based benchmarks such as client calls, asset retention, and marketing initiatives. In addition to these, I’m encouraging my clients to also consider foundational goals, such as:

• Strengthening specific behaviors that may have weakened in a remote environment, such as candor, appreciation, accountability, and actionable feedback. • Employee development beyond required compliance training or new technology mastery. Team building, leadership development, and other training opportunities let staffers know you continue to invest in each of them • Gauging team culture—where it is now, how it changed over a challenging year, and where you want it to be this time next year. • Addressing talent gaps through training incumbents or targeted hiring. • Creating or updating your team’s succession plan to manage expectations and ensure thoughtful transitions.

Whatever goals you choose, the likelihood of successful achievement is significantly higher when you establish specific measurements and (this is also essential) share those measurements with others who will hold you accountable, such as coaches, advisory boards, or colleagues outside of your team. Taking steps to control what you can by thoughtfully setting targets can unite your team and be key to this new year being a breakthrough year.


By Fran Skinner

Fran Skinner, CFA, CPA, is a partner at AUM Partners, a Libertyville, Ill.-based talent assessment and leadership development training firm that works exclusively with financial services firms.

Dow Jones & Company, Inc.