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The Value of Goals

This is of course the goal-setting time of the year. While much of this goal setting is personal in the form of resolutions, it might make sense to capitalize on this energy to consider (or reconsider) business goals as well.

Since a big part of my consulting practice is helping all levels in organizations to strategic plan and set goals. I often find myself frustrated at the lack of insightful writing about goal setting in business. There is little beyond the S.M.A.R.T. rules for writing goals (Goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Oriented). Though most seem to agree that goals are a good thing, I suspect that some proponents of chaos or complexity theory would argue that goals are more harmful than helpful to organizations.

I tend to believe that goals are useful to the extent that they focus energy and harmful to the extent that they too narrowly measure one view of success. In their book “Built To Last,” (James Collins and Jerry Porras) suggest that there are two primary elements present in those businesses that have enjoyed success for very long periods of time. The first is an enduring set of principles that really guide behavior in the organization. The second is what they call BHAGs (Big Harry Audacious Goals).

The authors define a BHAG as a goal that “reaches out and grabs them in the gut. It is tangible, energizing, highly focused. People ‘get it’ right away; it takes little or no explanation.”

What does a BHAG look like? Very little like a SMART goal I’m afraid. Examples from their writing include:

Crush Adidas. (Nike)

Democratize the automobile. (Ford)

Become the Harvard of the west. (Stanford)

Remember that principles will stay the same as they are your core reason for existing while goals (BHAGs in this case) will change and are used to stimulate. Obviously it may take a while to achieve success when BHAGs are used.

Ask yourself which is more motivating and likely to lead to new and creative ways of thinking and working.

1. Fill vacancies within six months.

2. Fill vacancies within two weeks.

The first is likely to lead to doing more of the same, incremental improvement at best. The second, if taken seriously, is likely to lead to entirely new ways of managing the business. Incremental improvement in what you are already doing will not lead to dramatic success.

The argument is that the primary value of goals is the psychological impact. Certain types of goals are likely to lead to certain types of behavior. If you have business goals, take a few minutes to consider the impact of those goals on those affected by those goals.

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