Tuesday, July 30, 2013

You Need A Goal

You’ve heard this before – probably a hundred times – you need a clear goal.

Call it what you will, the goal is what you are really trying to do.  There has been a lot written about goals, much of it confusing as hell.  (I used to think I understood the difference between goals and vision, but then I read a whole bunch of ‘Goals, Visions and Guiding Principles’ statements from a whole bunch of major organizations and I decided either they were loony or I was.  I opted for the former.)

The Goal is what you really want to achieve, the end point: Win the World Series, Defeat Nazi Germany, ‘Land a Man on the Moon and return him safely to earth in this decade,’ marry George Bailey and live in the old Granville house (Mary Hatch, It’s a Wonderful Life).

But, getting to the point where you can write down a clear goal is not as easy as it seems.  In fact, the overwhelming majority of us are not at all clear on our goals, either our personal goals or our professional ones.  I have sat down with any number of heads of businesses, and other organizations, helping them to craft a ‘strategic plan,’ a plan to move their organization – and themselves – forward.  Time and again I have been struck by how few of them are really clear on where the company or organization is headed or where they are headed.

The easiest thing to do is to identify some dollar figure: ‘increase annual sales to X.’ Of course, that can be questioned simply by asking: ‘at the expense of profits?’ That will lead to the question of sustaining profits, which implies capital investment, or are you going for a ‘quick kill?’  The goal is starting to look a bit more complicated.  Trying to answer the question of the real goal of an organization simply with a number can be done, but it requires the careful selection of that number: profit (pre-tax or post-tax, EBIT, EBITDA; one year, sustained, etc.), market share (national, North America, world wide), etc.  Making a goal two numbers can make a plan too complicated – and can lead to missing the forest for the trees. 

Thus, a number of years ago one of the larger auto manufacturers set out a goal of maximizing their market share by a certain year.  They almost got there, but in so doing they focused on turning out more cars and missed the changes in the world-wide market to increased reliability and lower fuel consumption.  About the time that they nearly reached their target goal they found themselves years behind their competitors and they have spent the following couple of decades trying to catch up to the rest of the industry in quality and performance of their fleet writ large.

This kind of thing happens in virtually every industry: people who are good at managing the organization, and often gifted engineers or accountants, etc., fail to develop and sustain a ‘big picture’ of their industry or a concomitant goal that will be able to deal with developments in that industry.  Four decades ago the US military was buying aircraft and systems from a wide range of companies, most of whom do not exist today except perhaps as a name tagged onto that of another company, and usually not even there.

The company that built the Saturn V that took man to the moon, and the Apollo capsule that brought them back, as well as the B-1 bomber and the space shuttle – North American Aviation – no longer exists, after being bought up by Rockwell, and then Rockwell splitting up in the 1990s.  It is said that the average billion dollar a year corporation lasts just 12 years.

If you are going to survive and thrive, you not only need to know where you are headed – you need a goal – but you also need one that makes sense and will leave you in at least as sound a position when you get there as you are when you start.  Figuring out that goal isn’t easy and it most assuredly won’t be quick.  But you need to ‘sit down’ and figure out exactly what is the goal of your organization, and while you are at it, what are your personal goals. 

Both will take time, and soul searching.  It will require that you be painfully honest with yourself, and it sometimes (almost always) requires that you bring into your organization someone you can trust completely.  But is also is fair to say that if you do not have a clear goal, everything else you do after that is going to go astray.

Is there a procedure, a step-by-step means to get to that clear goal?  There is, and I will discuss it tomorrow.


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