Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Setting Organizational Goals: Less Is More


There are two common mistakes made when setting goals.

#1 Not setting any goals

#2 Setting too many goals

Businesses flounder when they chase too many goals. If you feel you have too many priorities and claims on your attention, you are hardly alone. A recent survey of 1,800 global executives that dug into this issue revealed a wide range of related management ailments, including:

  • Most executives (64%) report they have too many conflicting priorities.
  • The majority of executives (56%) say that allocating resources in a way that really supports the strategy is a significant challenge, especially as companies chase a wide set of growth initiatives.
  • 81% admit that their growth initiatives lead to waste, at least some of the time.
  • Nearly half (47%) say their company’s way of creating value is not well understood by employees or customers.
To paraphrase the great Jim Collins, most great businesses don't die of starvation...they die from indigestion. They are on what I like to call the “Goal Buffet,” and their eyes were much, much larger than their stomach. As a result, they now have a plate of goals piled so high that they certainly can't eat all of them, and in trying to do so they will almost certainly be unhappy with the result.

Many businesses that find themselves paralyzed by this goal-overload indigestion. Things aren't getting done. People aren't effective. Deadlines aren't achieved. Companies feel stuck.

Goal setting is one of the more challenging tasks that leaders face. There are short- and long-term goals, plus overall business objectives to consider in addition to individual team and employee goals. They must be relevant and timely to motivate employees to actually reach them, but they also can’t be so fine-tuned that team members feel micromanaged. It’s a tricky balance to strike.

While keeping employees engaged and motivated in achieving those goals can be complicated in practice, the key to success is simplicity. Whether you call them goals, objectives or priorities, you should define each by a deliverable outcome. We like to call these measurable and achievable targets key results.

Focus on less in order to accomplish more. Start by selecting 1 wildly important goal, or WIG, instead of trying to work on a dozen goals all at once. I’m not suggesting you ignore the work necessary to maintain your daily operation. I’m suggesting you narrow your focus to work on what you want to significantly improve.

Most intelligent, ambitious people don’t want to do less. Especially if it means saying no to good ideas. They are wired to do more, but there are always more good ideas than there is capacity to execute.

When you choose a wildly important goal, you identify the most important objective that won’t be achieved unless it gets special attention. In other words, your normal course of business won’t make it happen.

To define a WIG, identify where you are now, where you want to be and by when. Said differently, you define a starting line, a finish line and a deadline. Psychologically it is very important to have a single measure of success.

Eliminate other goals that are secondary. This is not to say that you should never have more than one goal. Rather, you need to realize that you have only so much time and energy. Therefore, choose the goal that will give you the highest ROE (return on effort) and focus on that one goal first. Once complete, you can then focus on other goals in sequence.


In business, success comes from identifying the few opportunities that offer a real chance for reward, while ruthlessly eliminating all other goals that might be competing with the few that matter.

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