Process vs. goals

In Monday's post, I began a discussion of the public relations lessons I learned by observing Vanderbilt University football coach James Franklin's interaction with a group of freshman students.

In Monday's post, I began a discussion of the public relations lessons I learned by observing Vanderbilt University football coach James Franklin's interaction with a group of freshman students.

While that post dealt with the power of consistent messaging frequently delivered, today I'd like to move into another area that I think about a lot now than I've become a partner at my firm, McNeely Pigott & Fox in Nashville. It's a subject that I'm sure many of you also deal with on a daily basis. And that is the role and value of goal-setting. 

Lesson  No. 2: Process vs. goals
One of the points Coach Franklin made in his remarks to the students initially sounded a bit counterintuitive to me, especially coming from a leader so focused on excellence: He said leaders sometimes focus too much on goals.

What's more important, he believes, is process. In his first year at Vanderbilt, his team won six games, a pretty big achievement at the time for Commodore football. What if, he said, he had set a goal for the team to improve to seven wins the next season? Or even eight? The goals would actually have imposed a restriction on his team, a satisfaction that would have arrived too early. Vanderbilt ended up winning nine games. What was more important than setting a goal was to focus on the little things, the everyday processes that add up to success. The average play in a football game lasts just six seconds. He asks his players to be excellent for six seconds. Then another six seconds, and another.

I think that's an interesting philosophy that we can take into our everyday roles as leaders in the PR field. Yes, goals are important as we envision the success of our campaigns and in how we measure our progress. But an important way we help our staffers become better practitioners, and the way we ensure great results for our clients, is by focusing first on consistently assessing and fine-tuning the skills and processes we might otherwise take for granted, in terms of both individual talents and companywide standards. It's only by maintaining a disciplined focus on mastering the little things that we gain the freedom, confidence, and ability to exceed even the loftiest of goals.

Andrew Maraniss (@trublu24) is a partner at Nashville-based McNeely Pigott & Fox Public Relations.

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