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 Goals - Why Set Them?

Business planning always starts with setting goals - which, in business or elsewhere, is primarily an internal process. It has no direct effect on the external world; yet is crucial to the achievement of the desired outcomes. Why so?

When you define your objectives, you are first and foremost making a statement of intent. The outcome is not just a statement of something you want; but is rather a statement about what you actually intend achieving or doing. The goal-posts on a football field are important to the players because they are actively striving to move the ball toward them. They are not mere decorations. The same applies to business goals.

Similarly, when you set objectives for yourself or your group, you are making a commitment to yourself and those around you to take action. With this commitment comes accountability. If you share your intentions with those who will be affected by the outcome, as indeed you should, those people will hold you accountable for the results. This is a good thing for you and your business.

For this reason, it is important that your business planning objectives be written and visible to others, so there can be no question about whether you have lived up to your commitment. And, what is more, they should be formulated in such a way that they can be compared to reality and your progress measured against your intentions along the way. This tracking function is vital to your success.

 The Evolving Structure of a Goal

Detailed plans don't just pop into your head fully formed. They evolve. They begin as "dreams" or "visions" of what your life will be like at some point in the future. The more vivid these dreams are the better. It is no accident that many wealth folks live in homes and drive cars that at one time were pictured in snapshots and magazine clippings that were posted on their refrigerators. So start your business planning by defining your dreams.

With some effort on your part the dreams turn into schemes, which are fragments of a plan that is capable of taking you from your world of today to the better world that you desire. A scheme is nothing but a list of events that have to take place for the dream to be manifested in your life. Reaching your dreams entails creating a scheme that is well designed for its purpose.

As you work on your plan, the schemes coalesce into a plan of action, replete with recognizable milestone events that will let you know that you are on course toward the realization of your dreams. When the (written) list of milestones is complete and you have set dates for their achievement, you can truly say that you have set your goals.

Most people don't set set about their lives this way. That is why most people never reach their goals. And most of those who do so will stop at this point. But there is a further stage of goal evolution that one can attain. Practitioners of Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) call the final stage of their goal-setting process "Outcomes". Setting outcomes, rather than just goals, is a very powerful plus in your business planning agenda.

 The Structure of an Outcome

A well-formulated outcome has these features:

  • Sensory-based evidence of achievement - which simply means that the goal is described in such a way that you know what will be visible, audible, and tangible in your environment when it is achieved. This is how you will recognize when you have gotten where you are going - how you will know that your business planning has been successful.
  • Sensory based milestones - which are similarly defined descriptions of what your senses will tell you about your progress along the way. This will allow you to track your progress and make course corrections as you proceed.
  • Milestones are to be ordered according to cause and effect; so each event in the list is what must happen before the next item can happen. This ordering of milestones is referred to in management-speak as the "critical path" of a project or undertaking.
  • As the critical path is developed, you will notice that the events of which it is comprised can be marked off into long-term, mid-term, short-term, and immediate segments. By long-term I mean five to ten years. Mid-term might be one to five years. And short term goals / milestones pertain to the coming year. Immediate goals relate to your action plans for the coming month. So annotate or code your critical path elements accordingly as you proceed with your business planning.
  • Still another feature that distinguishes outcomes from ordinary goals is the listing of current and / or anticipated challenges or obstacles that must be dealt with for the undertaking to succeed. To include this information in your outcome, you need to consider each milestone and imagine all the challenges that you might face in its accomplishment. Then list the responses that you might make to overcome these obstacles.
  • And finally, based on your analysis of possible obstacles, you should set dates for progress reviews and list the course corrections that you might need to make at each one in order to arrive at your destination.

Does all this business planning / goal setting activity seem like a lot of work? Well, it is, and you've only just gotten started

 Write it down! Draw it out!

At the risk of seeming repetitious, I want to remind you that you can't keep all this information in your head. The need for a written record of all of your plans is absolute. What you can keep in your mind is the admonition: "Failing to plan is planning to fail." Without creating good documentation of your goals/outcomes, your chances of succeeding are practically nil. Competent business planning is not an option for the offline business. It is essential.

Professional project managers the world over almost always make diagrams to document their plans. You would be well advised to do so too. To do this, start with a written outline. From the outline construct a flow chart that diagrams all the events and processes that are included in your outline. Be sure to include the dates that you have assigned to the various milestones.

Professionals usually take this process a step further by charting the critical path, the series of co-dependent events that are anticipated, laid out in the proper order and annotated to show the inter-dependencies between the events on the chart.

There are a variety of tools available to help you do this. Some of them are free. Some are easily affordable. And some are very expensive - intended for the use of large corporations that are often required to submit critical path analyses when bidding for big government contracts. Those big companies spend many thousands of dollars on critical path software. Believe me they take their business planning activities very seriously.

Check the RESOURCES section of this website to find these tools. As soon as I can find the time to do so, I will provide links to sources where you can obtain the tools. Get the best ones you can afford. The investment will pay for itself many times over.

 Keep it Visible

It is crucial that the fruits of your business planning efforts be readily visible to you on a daily basis - and not just filed away in a drawer where I promise they will rot.

There are many ways to go about this. I personally do it by diagramming the plan using cheap software, printing the diagram in sections, and posting these diagrams where I can see them from my desk. Another alternative is to draw the diagrams by hand on a big sheet of butcher paper and taping it to a wall.

Still another choice would be to draw the plans on desk-pad sized sheets of paper, tape the sheets together, and then post the result.

Whatever method you choose, don't skip this step. Consider it a must-do chore in the development of your business.

 The Next Step

Setting your outcomes is just the first step on your business planning agenda, but before you proceed you will need to make some important choices. Let's look now at those business planning choices as we continue to

set goals and develop a sound offline business plan.

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Robert Podolsky

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