Clear goals are no more likely to emerge from vague or fuzzy thinking than change will politely slow down waiting for you to catch up. Change is a phenomenon of time. It is the rate at which something new appears and the point at which it is realized. Goals are the focal point to keep us moving in the right direction as the shift begins to happen.
Your strategic goals are the results that you absolutely, positively intend to achieve for the business. They determine how you set priorities, manage, and allocate resources. There is a hierarchy to goals that cascade down from the broad strategic plan, to the operational goals, the tactics, and the day-to-day operation of the business.
Without a plan of action, without well defined targets it is difficult for anyone in the organization to know what changes to make to get the best results. In the absence of goals, people improvise. Staring in the face of the unexpected, rather than looking forward, people rely on rules of the past. Skill routines and rote responses replace critical thinking, judgment, effective problem solving, and good decision making.
The result is goal dissonance; a gap between where you are and where you want to be usually caused by several factors.
Chasing the Silver Bullet – Organizations become heavily invested in the process improvement – the brand name shifts the focus to learning that system and its terminology and less about understanding your business. This creates imbalances throughout the organization, unintended consequences, costs, and requires more resources.
Poor Planning – Not planning far enough ahead causes teams to fall back on a shortsighted plan that promotes an idea rather than creating a long term view that considers the reality.
Poor Communication – (Mis)interpretation of goals is crippling the business. Even when clearly defined, strategy isn’t always effectively communicated. Establishing a common language for communicating strategy, and enabling communication at every level of the business is nearly as important as creating the strategy itself.
Poor Alignment – Clear, concise strategies which are effectively communicated still can’t drive value unless the entire organization understands how their individual actions are strategically aligned. High-level strategies must be broken down into specific sub-goals, which can then be owned and executed at every organizational level.
Inconsistent Policies – Policies created in the absence of the goal will not produce good results. Instead you will simply be pulled further in the wrong direction. Observing rules becomes more important than achieving the goals the rules were created to promote.
Lack of Focus – Focusing only on the tasks and not the result that the work should produce. We give in to day-to-day pressures, fire fighting, and problem deferral that continually delay work on the longer-term initiatives. Conflicting priorities and mismanagement of resources become a big problem. Conflicting goals sets up a pattern of internal competition for resources.
Poor Response to Change – We don’t rally the best of what we know and have in an effort to deal with situations as the context changes. We don’t search for new, better, and more appropriate answers before change is able to replace them. We invest in low value quick fixes that require as much time and effort but return little.
Poor Line of Sight – Employees are unable to “see” themselves as important players in the success of the business.
Lack of Measurement Standards – A final obstacle on the road to strategic execution is the inability of most companies to accurately measure true performance. There is a focus on lagging indicators and not the leading indicators that represent the enablers (key drivers of performance). To effectively measure past performance and make accurate predictions of future performance a more holistic approach to measurement is necessary.
Proclivity Toward Action – Do something do anything is not a good strategy. Activity is not accomplishment and the pressure to take some action causes a reactionary grasping for straws, throwing everything up to see what sticks. Everyone is busy but the energy and effort spent is on the wrong things. This results in well executed failure on the wrong strategy.
It is not just having a goal that leads to better accomplishment; it is the ability to weave them through the company strategy, processes, infrastructure, human capability, and culture. There is no silver bullet that will solve your problem. It will come down to the understanding the goals, the skills of the employees, and the ability of the systems and processes to align in a way that supports them.