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Balancing Act

When a CEO’s individual goals are out of whack with corporate objectives, it undermines your passion, which is an important source of persistence and creativity.What’s more, a lack of passion on your part affects the synergy and energy of your staff. When employees see that their leaders aren’t committed, they back off on performance.

Understanding alignment

Goal alignment revolves around:

  1. Mission. Why are you doing what you’re doing? 
  2. Vision. Where are you headed? What specific milestones are you aiming for? (This is especially important for partners to agree on.) 
  3. Values. What’s most important to you? What makes you feel satisfied and happy?

A common dilemma for second-stage business owners is that as the company grows, their leadership roles change, causing them to spend less time at favorite tasks.

“If you’re not touching the parts of the business that you love, it can be a big problem and cause a disconnect,” says Lauren Hefferon, founder of Ciclismo Classico, a 15-year-old travel business in Arlington, Mass., which generates more than $2 million in revenues.

Cycling has always been a passion for Hefferon. “I try to get outside as much as possible, and when I don’t, I get stressed,” she says. “Even when I’m leading trips, I want to ride my bike rather than drive the van.”

About four years ago, Hefferon felt that increasing responsibilities were encroaching on her passion — and consequently taking a toll on her leadership. She decided to turn over some operational responsibilities to senior managers and concentrate on the indoor activities she loves most: marketing and R&D.

Relinquishing control is not easy, but there’s a payoff, Hefferon observes: “When my personal goals and values are aligned with those of the company, I’m more driven to make it a good year — and it’s easier to do so.”

Guideposts for growth

Goal alignment benefits CEOs in a variety of ways.

Decision-making tool. “I used to agonize about which opportunities to pursue and which to pass up,” says Fran Bigelow. “Now the answer is simple: Does an opportunity fit in with my core vision and values?”

When Bigelow launched Fran’s Chocolates Ltd. in 1982, her goal was to replicate the kind of specialty-chocolate boutiques found in Europe. Over the years Bigelow introduced products and processes that enabled Fran’s Chocolates to move to a higher level; today the Seattle-based company generates more than $3 million in revenues. But she remains committed to high quality, pure ingredients and artisanship.

“If you’re clear on goals and values, you’re not going to be sidetracked,” says Bigelow.

Hiring tool. Being in tune with personal goals also helps a CEO establish a strong corporate culture to attract the right kind of employees.

In the early days of Fran’s Chocolates, Bigelow thought that the only employees who needed to share her vision were the ones who actually made the chocolate. Today, however, she wants all employees to appreciate quality and attention to details — regardless of their position.

To that end, Bigelow reviews corporate goals and values with job candidates. She also watches for their reactions when touring the plant or retail shops. “If employees embrace our corporate goals and values, they’ll be proud to be here every day,” explains Bigelow. “They’ll respect the work that they’re doing — and they’ll respect each other. That creates synergy for the organization; the whole group can move together and push to new levels.”

Guiding behavior. About three years ago, Cecil Cox created a code of ethics for his company, making sure those standards were in sync with his personal values. “Values are the meat — they’re where your goals come from,” says Cox, founder of Access Pros, a $4 million Atlanta-based firm that installs automated drive gates and systems.

Cox says he was “naive” when he hired his first employees: “I thought that everyone would think the way I did on the job.” The turning point came a few years later when Cox bought out a partner over conflicting principles. He realized that “you can’t be in business with someone who doesn’t share your values,” and he extended this philosophy to employees.

Cox dismissed workers who didn’t live up to the company’s values. Instead of hiring employees on skills alone, Cox looks for candidates who embrace Access Pros’ code of ethics.

Access Pros has doubled its revenues in the past three years — something that Cox links to the new focus on values. The code of ethics has also helped Cox ease out of daily operations. “My managers know what we stand for as a company based on our core values and can make decisions off those,” he says.


Introspection is an important part of goal alignment. Take the time to examine your level of commitment.

When Robert Dube began working with an E-Myth consultant to develop systems, he realized that his personal goals didn’t correlate with professional ones. “That changed the way I looked at my company,” says Dube, founder of Image One, a provider of print-imaging equipment and services in Oak Park, Mich. “It gave me a clearer idea of where I want the business to be at because of where I want to be at personally.”

As a consequence, Dube changed many of Image One’s corporate goals, making them “more people oriented.” He also altered his leadership M.O. and began working from home more often to spend time with his family. “I used to worry how it might be perceived by employees if I wasn’t in the office at a certain time,” explains Dube. “But then I realized I can be just as committed by not being there. People understand that I have a focus on family, which allows them to have a focus on their families.”

In the past three years, revenues at Image One have grown from about $1.9 million to $3.3 million, and the company projects $4 million for this year.

“I’m a lot happier,” adds Dube. “The weight of the world doesn’t feel like it’s on my shoulders anymore.”

Writer: TJ Becker.