"So...hows it going?"

This simple question that in social situations sparks a common response of “Good thanks” can prompt a significantly different response in the corporate world when asked by a senior leader.

Assume that a plucky executive (lets call him Jeff) steps into a lift in the office with the Chief Executive who proffers the question above. Firstly, Jeff mentally goes for the knee jerk social response of “Good thanks” but quickly discounts this as the Chief Executive is probably looking for something more business related. Next, Jeff mentally skims through his last KPI deck for inspiration to provide a response but as he only really looks at the 4 metrics included in his bonus he can’t remember anything of note past page 2 of the report.

Now, Jeff has been standing silently for too long to respond with anything trivial and “I’m going to hit my bonus” is probably not going to cut it (if he tries to go for a high five at the end of this statement he might be left hanging). Jeff decides to appear considered in his response and make it look like he is reflecting deeply on the question…which by this point is his only option.

As the next floor passes by, the first bead of sweat trickles down Jeff’s back and he desperately tries to think of something related to the mission statement, or the vision, or the latest strategy presentation…or one of the 10 CSFs that his brand recently rolled out. He goes for the hand on the chin pose to buy more time and the CEO moves uncomfortably, at which point Jeff suddenly thinks…”does he know something I don’t?”, “has he had feedback from the field team?”. Jeff now needs to be positive but not so positive that he can’t back out of the positivity if the CEO reckons he’s not doing well. The lift starts to slow and Jeff finally has to give an answer.

“I think we’re doing OK this quarter but I’m not sure if the sales team and really on it.” And in a flash of inspiration to avoid a further question he goes for one himself “How’s it going with you?”

“Good thanks” comes the reply as the doors open and the CEO exits the lift…now looking for the sales Director.

Social ineptitude aside, Jeff’s problem is not that uncommon as organisations find themselves lost in a myriad of goals, measures, plans and KPIs that it becomes difficult to articulate exactly what they’re trying to achieve, why, and how they’re doing in achieving it. I've heard this effect described as “Infobesity” as we gourge on information without activity. In many cases our organisations can become filled with people feeding the infobesity of others and developing an army of corporate couch potatoes. Have you ever felt that the processes of your organisation have become the objectives? If so then you might want to cut a few out.

If you are reading this and are not sure if you could quickly respond in a lift, then here is a cheat to get you ready. Answer these questions and if asked the question “How’s it going” simply respond with the answers…or simply say “Good thanks” and realise that the CEO is probably just being friendly.

1) What is your overall goal? (Usually measured by KPI No1)

2) How are your current activities contributing to it?

3) What happens if you’re successful?

4) What would it take to make it happen in half the time?

Example 1:

“How’s it going?”

“Well we’re aiming for £2m this year. Right now I’m working on a new IT solution that will make it easier for customers to order. If we get this right customers should be able to order multiple products in one go and receive prompts with special offers. If I could overcome some of the programming issues with the original platform I might even be able to get it completed ahead of schedule”

Example 2:

“How’s it going?”

“We want to get to 35% market share by the end of the year. Right now I’m working on the next marketing campaign for quarter 2. If we’re successful we will have gained ground in a new customer segment that has the growth opportunity we need to achieve our goal. If we can get the online thought leaders for this segment on board early we might be able to get the growth outcome earlier.”

Now just imagine if your whole team would give the same answer...

#businessconversation #clarityofmessage

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