Setting Goals


You’ve got to think about the big thing while you’re doing small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction.” — Alvin Toffler

The first title of this post was “Preparing for Meetings”. Many meetings many of us have attended seemed to have no purpose. “Be Prepared” is the Boy Scout motto, and I believe it should be every manager’s motto too. But be prepared for what?

Think of the purpose of the meeting first. Purpose gives us effectiveness and focus. Focus gives us efficiency. If we know what it is we want to do, we can do it. If you don’t know what you’re doing and why, any path will get you there. We need both efficiency (doing a task well and quickly), and effectiveness (doing the right task). There is not point doing the wrong thing well and quickly.

Having a visual picture of what success looks like is the most effective way to set a goal. We’re tricking our brains. If we an imagine success, see, hear, feel, taste, and touch it, then we can drive toward it. When we know what success looks like, our brains starts filling in what we need to do to get there. Olympic level athletes have used this technique for years. You can use it too.

Every team has a purpose, and every meeting should support that purpose. If you’re not clear what the purpose of your team, job, project, program, assignment, chore, or errand, or relationship is, then you’re not going to get there. Being a team means having a shared vision. Communicating, clarifying, adjusting, and reinforcing that vision is a major part of a leader’s role.

Try this exercise with the next project that you undertake. Visualize the successful outcome. Imagine you are standing on the other side of the finish line. What does it look like? This is easy if you’re creating something real-world, like building a fence. You probably even have a picture or a plan that you’re working from. When you drive in the last nail, you’ll be able to step back from it as see that it’s done. You’ll probably even drag your spouse outside and show him or her what you’ve done.

In a corporate environment this is harder. “Customer satisfaction has risen by 5%.” “Costs have been reduced by 10%.” “We sold 5,000 units of our product.” What does this look like when you’re done?

Be careful, though, when setting these kinds of goals. You will get what you measure. For example, if the CEO says “We will increase profit by reducing costs.”, and this may result in reduced customer satisfaction because they are not getting the level of service they expect. This may in turn affect sales. The real goal, then, is “Reduce costs while maintaining sales and customer satisfaction.” A clear and simple goal. Maybe not easy, but simple to understand and measurable.

A clear goal will tell you when you’re done. It will define what success looks like. “Build a fence” means that you have a fence when you’re done. “Reduce costs by 10% while maintaining customer satisfaction & sales” is similarly measurable.

Avoid nebulous goals such as “x million $ of earning before interest and taxes”. That’s a great goal for the board of directors or the Chief Financial Officer, but what does that mean to the people actually doing the work? What are you expecting from the staff that deal with your customer and the public, that attach the doo-hickeys to the thingamaboobs, or who write the software? If you’re a manager that’s been handed this bag of rats, it’s your job to break it down into something that your team can understand. Don’t just past the message along and shrug your shoulders. Tack on your own “this is what this means to us” message that is understandable and actionable.

Next time: How to prepare a good meeting

Further reading: setting SMART goals, why to avoid SMART goals


4 responses to “Setting Goals

  1. Pingback: When Meetings Suck « The Practical Manager

  2. Pingback: Do You Know Where Your Priorities Are? « The Practical Manager

  3. Pingback: Measuring Your Life’s Success « Practical Managers

  4. Pingback: Deflate Your Resume for Better Results | Practical Managers

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