Aim for a concrete objective, not the horizon

Posted: October 26, 2015 in Powerful Ideas
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There was an article in today’s Wall Street Journal about learning from failure. I agree with most of what is said, but the article also includes survey results from the last decade which consistently show that the most important cause of “failure” is unrealistic or inaccurate objectives.

Unfortunately with this kind of result, we can’t ascertain how valid the original objectives were. I’ve often observed this phenomenon with my clients when we start working together. Objectives and goals are often vague, abstract or simply unattainable. I call this the “horizon problem”; regardless of how much progress you make, you can never reach the horizon. It’s always there, mocking you.

I advocate defining and aiming for concrete objectives. For instance, simply saying you want to increase revenues or profits is just a way of starting the goal-setting process. You have to then turn this into something specific. What is the dollar increase in sales you are aiming for? How many clients or products or whatever does that represent? What are the markets or segments you’re targeting? Within what timeframe?

You can always revise goals upward as you close in on them. But at least, by making them concrete you have to specify intermediate steps that are measurable and actionable. This way you avoid the “horizon problem.” You can also compare your progress against where you were when you started. If anything, this provides a more realistic basis of comparison and also helps in raising morale, because the progress and improvements are more evident.

Richard Martin is The Force Multiplier. He brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to radically improve performance, grow, and thrive in the face of rapid change, harsh competition, and increasing uncertainty.

© 2015 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes are permitted with proper attribution.

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