Are your goals real or are you dreaming?


Too many times in my career I’ve seen companies or individuals set goals for themselves and not achieve them. That, in and of itself, is not a problem. The problem is that in many cases you can predict failure before the work begins. How?

Because sometimes goals are thought of as aspirations. A nice place to end up, like “I want to retire at 60”. Nice idea, but how are you going to get there? What does it even mean to retire? In essence the goal has no context and no formula for success. To get it right you have to think about a small number of key elements and take them seriously.

Here are the 7 Questions that really matter:

  1. What number are you trying to reach? Good goals are specific, not generic and can be explained in numeric terms.
  2. Are you stretching? Look at the goal you set and test it to see if it takes some extraordinary effort or are you just keeping track of your normal trajectory? The winners in any endeavor always work harder than everyone else.
  3. What road will you take? A former mentor of mine use to say “if you don’t know where you’re going any road will get you there”. It is not enough to have a stretch goal. You have to know how you are going to achieve it.
  4. When will you arrive? A goal without a timeframe is like a journey without a destination. To say you want to grow your business 10% is far different than saying you want to do that this year. Deadlines are very powerful motivators.
  5. How will you know when you arrive? Believe it or not too many goals seem clear when you start but the metric to be used for determining success is either unclear or non-existent. I serve on the Compensation Committee of a board of directors. It is sometimes challenging because of all the variables we have to define in advance to determine exactly what will constitute success. But if you don’t you end up with a much bigger problem when the time comes to determine bonuses.
  6. Can everyone understand your goal? That may sound crazy, but good goals are simple. Everyone can understand them and in fact repeat them back to you because they are understood and become part of their every day thinking. I like this exercise. Think about putting your goal on a poster, limiting your self to 3 things:
  • a simple goals statement
  • the measurement formula
  • how the outcome effects the company.

7.  Is your goal relevant? This may be the most important factor of all. Too many times goals in companies conflict because they are done individually and in a vacuum. How does your goal impact other goals and vice versa? How does your goal tie to the larger corporate or organizational goal? All you need to do is watch any political process to see how conflicting goals can be destructive rather than constructive when it comes to solving important problems.

Whether you are just now establishing your goals or working toward goals you’ve had in place for some time, it would be useful to check the health and well being of your goal and your process by asking these questions. In my consulting work, this is one of the places I start when I analyze what the company needs to do to be successful.

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