“Begin with the end in mind.”
In Stephen Covey’s book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, this is habit number two. The idea is that the activities of an individual or organization should be driven by the end goal. What are you trying to achieve? What is the purpose of achieving this goal? Why is this important?
Throughout my career, I’ve always had personal goals and business goals, even if I didn’t write them down. During the early years, many of these goals only existed in my mind and people would urge and plead with me to put my business goals on paper. Today, the reverse is true. I am laser-focused on creating and documenting all of my goals and the strategies to help me achieve them.
That’s because goal setting isn’t just about the person in charge issuing an edict that identifies goals and the steps to follow to achieve them. The people who will contribute to goals being achieved should be involved in the goal-setting process because they need to buy into the goals and the strategy.
The reason why goal setting is such a high priority in our firm is simple. With clear goals backed up by a sound strategy, you position the organization to succeed, grow, and overcome unexpected challenges.
Dropping Your Pin
Goal setting is like a modern-day GPS. You drop your pin on where you want to go and what you want to achieve. Then you determine which route you should take, and which strategy you should follow, to get to your final destination.
An organization will benefit by getting from point A to point B in the most efficient, timely manner. There will be roadblocks that force you to change course, but because you’ve dropped your pin, you’re not driving aimlessly. You’re still moving forward with the end in mind.
The worst thing an organization can do is hit the road without dropping a pin. Sure, you might get lucky and hit the pin. You might even discover something unexpected that makes the trip worthwhile. However, organizations are not well-served by leaving these things to chance and taking unnecessary risks.
What a Goal Should Look Like
As a child, if you were trying to cross a creek by stepping on stones, you wouldn’t just jump on the closest stone. You would look for stones that were big enough and close enough together from one side of the creek to the other. You may change your path or fall into the water, but knowing where you are going will help you overcome obstacles. Ideally, you’ll have a friend nearby to pull you out of the water and help you get back on track.
Goal setting is about having stepping stones. You need short- and long-term goals, a roadmap to reach them, and a support system to help you achieve them.
I realize that I’m not the first person to write about goals, but these are the characteristics of a goal that I feel are most important. A goal should be:
- You’re going to get to the other side of the creek by stepping on stones.
- Each stone you reach, and how quickly you reach them, show progress toward your goal.
- If the stones are too small and/or too far apart, the goal isn’t realistic and you could waste time and resources trying to achieve something that is unachievable.
- Stepping on stones to get across the creek should serve a purpose that is meaningful to the individual and the organization.
- Ideally, you can get across the creek in 10 minutes. If it takes an hour, is it worth it?
- What can you learn from achieving, exceeding, or falling short of your goals?
The assessment component is often lost in the shuffle. Too many organizations equate falling short of a goal with failure and achieving or exceeding a goal with success. In business and life in general, we learn far more from perceived failure than success. Not every result should be viewed in terms of win or lose.
Having such narrow, black-and-white definitions can keep an individual or organization from achieving their goals before they get started. They are often driven by a fear of failure instead of striving to accomplish a goal. The key is to assess what happened and learn in every scenario.
If you fell short, why did that happen? Were there unforeseen obstacles? How can you improve? What lessons can you apply to your next challenge? Was the goal unachievable?
If you achieved your goal, what did you do right? Is there room for improvement?
If you exceeded your goal, how can you replicate that success? Did you plan for obstacles that didn’t exist, which made it easier to achieve your goal? Should you raise the bar?
In addition to creating measurable goals that allow for individual and organizational accountability, all goals should be carefully assessed to identify opportunities and strategies for growth.
Building Alignment Between Your Goals and Who You Are
Stephen Covey said that a great way to begin with the end in mind is to develop a personal mission statement and use that statement to guide all that you do. At Prager Metis, our mission statement was developed with input from the entire organization.
As a firm that values, respects, and prioritizes the human element, every goal we establish must support our culture. The strategies we establish for achieving our goals must be consistent with our organizational vision. Goals help define who we are and who we want to be.
To consistently achieve your goals, win support for your goals at every level of the organization, and enable steady growth, there must be alignment between your culture, your vision, your goals, and how your team and the organization as a whole are assessed.
Even the ancient explorers did not set sail without a goal and a path in mind. Long before there were compasses, sailors observed stars and constellations to mark their position. They sometimes missed their mark but were often remarkably close to their targets. I see the stars as the people who make up the organization. They offer feedback and help you establish goals and direction for the organization.
As business leaders, we need to strategically drop our pins and create written plans with input from a strong, empowered team. That’s how we can achieve bold goals and run successful, growth-oriented organizations.