Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cheshire Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don’t much care where.
The Cheshire Cat: Then it doesn’t much matter which way you go.
Alice: …So long as I get somewhere.
The Cheshire Cat: Oh, you’re sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.
–Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
Sometimes we get more hung up in the process of setting goals and activities than in moving ahead.
We need more informal efforts than copying the latest process that is in vogue. For example, what is the real difference between MBOS, 360 reviews, OKRS, Lean Start Up, et cetera? Don’t worry if you don’t know what all these terms are because it doesn’t matter. Culture, process, and relationships are more important than just the tool you use to set goals.
Related: How Do Humans Beat the Nerds?
When I served as the president of a home furnishings company, I once encouraged the head of our print shop to take risks. She printed and posted several large posters with our goals, including sales and profits. She empowered herself to display them around the plant. At first, our executives were horrified, but we were a union plant, and when the union chimed in, they were enthusiastic about suggesting ideas to improve sales and profits. They developed a whole new program to reduce returns though better communication and information for consumers. Textbook win/win.
I once headed up another large group in a leading textile corporation. The corporate president who had been the creative stimulus for the corporation had little involvement in our group and was close to retirement. While we busy doing comprehensive quarterly meetings to review results he would just walk upstairs to speak with executives. He would ask about how you were doing, what you were working on, or what challenges you were facing. He was good at being supportive and challenging rather than confrontational. His meetings with me and others were among the most stimulating I ever experienced. He showed that he personally cared, especially when he followed up on your ideas a few weeks later.
We all understand the importance of goals, purpose and direction in establishing commitment, success, team work, and coordination. Somehow between that understanding and the execution things often go awry. Some suggestions to consider in making the process more real, personal and involving are:
- Understand the skills of people involved in the process and who you are including. Developing both top-down and bottom-up goals that meet the organization’s needs is not as simple as it seems. Similarly, short and long-term goals, cash and investment goals, or strategy versus profit operations goals need more consideration than they are frequently given. For example, much of the entrepreneurial planning material is built around getting the next round of venture capital funding while small companies need to pay their bills next week.
- One of the key mantras of database marketing has been the focus on setting goals and measurement. Google Analytics have become tools of choice for companies seeking to set goals and measure results. But is your goal to have an impressive chart or to make more money?
- In most efforts and organizations there are multiple goals and demands. Prioritization, comparison, and measurement become critical issues. If goals are too simple, they can ignore many aspects of a situation but if there are too many, there can be a lack of focus.
- Communicating goals and their measurement throughout an organization is frequently a secondary priority. Why have them if you don’t manage them?
- Goals and measurements need to be a process for business improvement rather than an end. Goals are not easy to develop or measure, but the process is critical to organizational success. In particular this requires flexibility to modify and change as conditions change.
Setting goals is a process that needs to be understood and communicated. This requires that organizations understand the different needs of the organization and participants. You should also try to be sure the process is as clear and simple as possible. Finally, remember the purpose of the process is improvement, rather than being used simply as a tool for criticism.
Everyone has experienced goal setting failures. However, we do not share enough success stories. I’d love to hear examples of success in your goal setting process. Email me
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