January 30, 2019

On Setting Goals & the signposts that make good progress happen

By William Buist

To finish off our series of guest posts on setting goals, here are some useful signposts from William Buist.

William has joined us before as a guest blogger, to share on topics as diverse as GDPR, office environments & questioning.

In this post, he draws on his personal experience, as well as what he has learnt as a business mentor. William encourages us to look beyond our goals to our journeys. Are you setting goals in a way that makes them more than fantasy?

Over to William to explain more…

Is your goal setting pure fantasy?

Goal setting is something that we all do. There’s good reason too, humans don’t do big things for no reason. We build a house for shelter, or a company for creating value, and so on. We set the aim, the goal, and then do the work.  

Yet, Steven Covey said something quite profound about goals – he said “Stop setting goals. Goals are pure fantasy unless you have a specific plan to achieve them.” 

Is he wrong? 

In part, I think he misses a critical point. You can’t build a plan without first having the goal to plan for. Perhaps Covey missed a word, “just” – “Stop just setting goals” if that, then I concur.  (Paul thinks Tony Boobier would agree too – given his recent challenge).

Some goals are hard to plan for, because you don’t yet know how to do them. Others are hard to plan for because you don’t know what to do first. I have learned that goals are not achieved by planning the whole journey

Life doesn’t work like that. Events change things and flexibility is at least as important as planning.

The need for flexibility & clarity in setting goals

A business owner recently wrestled with the question of taking their business in one of two, different, directions. Should they…

  • Build it for sale, which meant creating a lot of value and a big team? 
  • Or keep it small but efficient so that they become known as a world class specialist in their niche? (“The” expert in their now very narrow field). 

Both options were motivating, and for different reasons, both exciting. We worked out a plan for the next few months, for each goal. Something extraordinary became clear.  For either of these outcomes there wasn’t much, or any, difference. 

They needed to get clarity on the offer, understand his market better. 

They needed to improve systems and customer service

The tasks were the same whichever road the business would finally chose. So we deferred the decision whilst doing what we knew moved us closer to either outcome. 

We identified the signposts we would spot when the roads do actually diverge. We knew that would be the time to make the next big decision

Spotting those signposts, not setting goals too early

Time and again, I see that to make progress to their goals, businesses need to take big decisions, at the right time, with the best information

Planning when those decision points (signposts) arrive. Knowing what you need to know, and have. These things are how businesses reliably reach their goals. 

It’s also how they avoid making costly mistakes along the way. 

How to act, after setting goals, to achieve them

  1. The first step to a robust plan is identifying the next major decision point or signpost. 
  2. Then clarify what you will need, at that time, to make a well informed, considered, and effective decision on direction. 
  3. Then put in place the work that will get you to that point, with the information you need. 

Goals create a landscape, plans define a road, but you need to know the highway code. 

Recognise the signposts when they arrive, and be ready for the choices that they ease. Have a great journey.

Beyond setting goals, how will you travel?

Thanks to William for that advice, grounded in the practical experience of working with businesses.

I hope that helped you & sparked your own thinking. Have you prepared for how you stay both focussed on the right goals & flexible?

Do you know how to spot your signposts. Major decision points when it makes sense to reassess your approach?

If you have experience of applying such judgement, especially in  the field  of Customer Insight/Data Science – I’d love to hear from you.

Let’s keep sharing as leaders. So, we can all get better at not just setting the right goals, but travelling through 2019 in a way that will achieve them.