I was going to write a piece on setting targets as it has come up so many times in the past few weeks and I think it is particularly important as we start to consider creating our plans for 2012. However, upon reading the piece today by Shelli Johnson, guest poster on Derek Flynn’s ‘Rant with Occasional Music’ Blog, called ‘Why I Stopped Looking at the Numbers’  ….. I took another look at the piece I had written.

There is no doubt that the principle ‘whatever gets measured, gets attention and therefore gets changed/improved’ still holds true. This is a favourite mantra of mine and the concept of a daily/weekly focus sheet or board is something that I introduce to every client – every one of them still use it and would say that it’s a really valuable tool. Many have taken it far beyond the original format.

There is however an important distinction and it was highlighted by Shelli’s piece in which she reflects on the negative effect of focussing on her book sales numbers and her reaction to seeing others achieving greater sales. The distinction is that there is little point in reading significance into numbers that you cannot control – in Shelli’s case, as with every writer and person engaged in the creation of products which are sold by other people, there is very little you can ‘directly’ do to force people to buy your product especially when they are not in front of you.

So how can you influence people, and indeed, what kind of targets can you set and measure in order to bring about the impact on your business or your book sales that you desire?

I recall reading Jack Canfields book ‘Success Principles’ in which he talked about how, after finally getting that publishing deal for the original ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul’ book, he recalled some advice that he had received, years before, from a mentor who told him that if you want to overcome a big task such as ‘chopping down that big oak tree’ then he should apply the ‘Rule of 5’. This rule states that if you strike the tree 5 blows, with an axe, everyday that eventually the tree will fall!

Taking this advice, and setting an objective of getting onto the New York Times bestseller list, he and co-author, Mark Victor Hansen set about doing 5 things everyday in order to raise the profile of the book. Even when the publishers stopped all of their PR activity normally associated with the launch, the two guys continued their 5-a-day efforts by doing everything from writing to magazines, turning up for signings at shopping malls, doing obscure radio interviews and even sending books to the jury at the OJ Simpson trial via the office of the presiding judge. Some jurors were seen on TV actually holding the book in the court room. Within 18 months they had achieved their listing on the NYT list!

In that case they focussed on the things they could control and set about following through on it every day. In such a case I would be recommending that the tracking and recording of that activity would be an essential part of one’s daily report sheet both as a reminder of the target and the acknowledgement of progress.

The point is that keeping score is an essential part of running a business or being successful at anything, be it distributing, retailing and writing and we are already aware of how important statistics are to sports people. However it is more important that you keep score of the things that you can control and influence rather than things that are outside that sphere. I am certainly not saying that you shouldn’t keep track of sales figures, it is important to be aware of such information however the key is in understanding whether you can directly influence them or not. A salesman would track sales knowing he can directly influence them whereas in Shelli’s case, as a writer, she cannot however there are many other things that she, and indeed we, can do to bring about the business objectives that we desire.

So if you were to consider the lessons from this piece and how you incorporate them into your business plans for 2012, you might try the following:

1. Identify some actions that you know by doing them every day – e.g. contacting prospects, checking in with customers, adding to your network, making Facebook posts, writing to publishers/agents etc – that you will enhance your results.

2. Set some daily targets for these activities on a sheet or whiteboard in your office and record the actuals each day…..observe your heightened focus and your results improving.

And ….
3. Consider a huge ‘chop down an oak tree’ type task and resolve to do 5 things a day to make it happen (or 3 things if that is more manageable) and see how the task suddenly becomes more achievable.

If you try any of these suggestions, I would love to hear how you got on with them!