Painting the Target

If you asked anyone who has recently served in the U.S. Military what the phrase “painting the target” meant, you’d get a similar answer from most.  Generally, a laser is used to put a heat signature on a target which later guides a projectile weapon to strike the target in that spot.  Simply put, if the target is “painted,” it is getting hit, no ands, ifs, or buts.  This near perfect accuracy is one of things which make our military almost legendary across the world. They take an integrated system of high tech equipment, fine tune the pieces to work in perfect harmony, set an achievable goal, and put the whole thing in motion.  They get results which are measurable and indisputable.

Despite the oversimplified brief description I’ve given, the process is extremely complex and has many potential points where it could collapse.  There are many highly trained people who practice over and over and over again to perfect every part of the system until it operates at precision levels, every time.  This level of teamwork doesn’t come easy, it takes time and effort.  Stepping back to look at how this comes together behind the scenes, certain things rise to the top as key components in the winning strategy.  Most importantly that success depends on the people who participate.  Machines, amazing and advanced as they might be still can’t do the job alone, it takes people; a well trained staff that understands not only what they are doing, but why they are doing it, and what results are expected.  It holds true in the Military, it holds true in a company, and it holds true in a department.

A produce department at a supermarket can be made up of men, women, both young and old, some with no experience, while others were around when everything was packaged at the store and half the items we see today didn’t exist.  The department lead can be called a manager or supervisor, or even director, but regardless of the name, that person has the role of teacher, leader, decider, merchandiser, chief cook and bottle washer.  They are the one responsible for the success or failure of the entire group based on their guidance.  The management style of the lead makes a lot of difference as it can bring together a mixed group of individuals and make them into a cohesive unit, or it can change a well –oiled machine into a pile of broken rusty parts.

Attitude, communication, and attention to detail are all important pieces to the final determination of a management style.  But results are what most people end up being evaluated by in the end.  I’ve seen mean and gruff bosses have continued success because they post solid results period after period and I’ve also seen managers with great personalities who are seemingly loved by anyone get replaced as they just weren’t making the numbers.  The common difference with these two examples has a lot to do with goal setting – painting their own target.

Goal setting by itself doesn’t accomplish the job, but it provides the manager with a target.  In order to hit that target, whether it be a sales figure, a level of shrink reduction, or volume shipped, the good manager needs to understand that it’s up to him or her to develop a strategy to meet the goal.  A strategy might be as simple as make sure all value added products have at least 4 days of shelf life on the expiration date while on the shelf.  When customers shop that section, they’ll notice that nothing is ever expired and over time the confidence level will grow and the reputation of the department will be enhanced.  Sounds easy, but that’s not the total approach.  There is also the need to develop tactics, which are procedures employed to support your strategy which should lead to success and reaching your goal.  Now in our example a tactic could be check the case twice per day without fail or check the dates on all inbound arrivals and inventory by oldest first for proper rotation.  There could be many more but it is easy to see how important they are to reach the goal.

So we can summarized that in order to see your department operate like a well-oiled machine, one that “hits the target,” you need to recognize and develop a plan that includes clear well-defined goals, a strategy that allows those goals to be reached or exceeded, and a set of protocols to support the plan.  Once you’ve painted your target and get your team on the same page as you are, your management style won’t matter as much as your execution.