2011 Success Strategies: Beyond the Comfort Zone by Pat Thomas

It may seem fruitless to ask a successful business team to go one step beyond to achieve even greater results. The prevailing attitude among members will often be “Why bother? We’re already making our numbers, so let’s leave well enough alone.”  Yet, it’s amazing what can be accomplished when performers reach deep inside and pull off a breakthrough far beyond what anyone ever thought was possible.

Take the example of a product management team that was rolling along, meetings its numbers and contributing to the firm’s profit margin.  Each member was a top performer and together, they were a powerful force inside a woman-led business.

But sometimes good can be the enemy of outstanding.  Making their numbers was reason enough for this team to feel satisfied.  After all, in the eyes of the firm, they could do no wrong with month after month of on or above-target financials.

The CEO was an astute executive who realized an opportunity to encourage her product team to step up to accomplishing more, so she challenged them to deliver 25% more profit on their portfolio of products than they had achieved in the past.

Given their naturally competitive nature, and desire to maintain their “winning team” status, they accepted the CEO’s challenge, but it was already mid-year, and the group had only six months to accomplish what seemed like an impossible task.

The team’s manager knew that something outside of the norm would have to be the impetus to motivate this team, and she received approval from her CEO to employ two unorthodox methods:  one was to challenge the team to put up their bonuses for the year as incentive to achieve the stretch goal, and the other was to have the team participate in a process that would unearth their assumptions about what was possible so that they could create the kind of energy , attitudes and actions necessary to achieve the desired results.
The team spent a week examining their business model, clients, historical results and opportunities for innovation. Once this work was reviewed, the team went through a Best Year Yet workshop which caused them to reflect on what was and was not working, the lessons learned about successful product management strategies and tactics, and what would have to stop, start or change to increase their margins.

After a week of review and planning, team members were able to admit their comfort level with just achieving on-target results, and realized they could do more. They also realized that the proposed incentive to put bonuses at risk was big enough to spur them on.

Their already established working relationships got kicked into overdrive as they developed new marketing plans and customer contact strategies that had never been tried before.  They used the Best Year Yet PRO tracking software to keep everyone abreast of their plan’s progress and were astounded as results started coming in above and beyond their own stretch projections. The first few months of good news encouraged the team to continue working and refining their plan.  After six short months, they had achieved 126% of their original profit margin target.

The factors that resulted in this team’s success were the presence of a big challenge, a threat to their privileged position as winners, and their ability to find a way to make the seemingly impossible happen.  It helped that they worked well together and were starting from a position of strength.  Their past success gave them the confidence to forge ahead with their plans, and the financial incentive made the stakes high enough to make winning the only acceptable outcome.

The Best Year Yet program works because it challenges beliefs about what is possible.  Both attitudes and actions are affected by the process of uncovering limiting paradigms and replacing them with a concerted focus on desired outcomes.  But that’s only the beginning.  Accountability and transparency pull a team forward by revealing the truth about its progress. As a result, each individual and the entire team feel a sense of ownership and responsibility for the plan’s success.

The program worked for this product team and is so powerful that it can be adapted for any team that works together to achieve common goals. Best Year Yet has the capacity to make believers out of your team as well.

About the author:
Patricia ThomasPatricia Thomas is a native New Yorker, Executive Coach, Management Consultant and has been a BYY partner since 2004. She is the principal owner of Thomas Coaching Company, and collaborates on large corporate deals with The McNeill Group, a boutique coaching, consulting and training company. She also chairs a New York chapter of the Women Presidents’ Organization and facilitates monthly sessions aimed at increasing business results and the personal effectiveness of women owners of multi-million dollar businesses through a peer-advisory format. Pat has been a Best Year Yet Partner since 2004. Her most recent experience is a Team Program with a high level Cisco group.