As I transition towards more advisory work and I reflect on the 600+ businesses I’ve worked with over the past 22 years, it’s apparent that most small to medium-sized business operate with limited or no real strategic planning or goal-setting.
Many companies are started somewhat by accident—fueled more by early bursts of inspiration than by a long-term strategy for turning the initial idea into a sustainable, profitable, fulfilling business.
It’s like driving onto the freeway and engaging the cruise control at maximum speed—without any clear idea of how you’re going to get to where you’re going—and just hoping you will be able to find the right signs and that there won’t be any potholes or roadworks or traffic along the way. (As an aside, look up “hope is not a strategy”.)
The reality is, of course, your trip will almost certainly be impacted by bumpy roads, traffic, reckless drivers, weather, and numerous other distractions. Not to mention exits and intersections and forks in the road.
If you don’t have a strategy for where you’re going, a plan for how you’re going to get there, and objectives and goals to reach your destination, you probably won’t make it at all—let alone on time.
The vision is what you’re going to do at your destination.
The objective might be to arrive by a certain time having eaten along the way so you don’t turn up hungry.
The strategy is the means by which you’ll get there (more direct freeways or less stressful back-roads, whether to stick to the speed limits, when to stop for gas and snacks, etc.).
The plan is the map you use to get there.
The goals are how you will know you’re on track to achieve your objective (drive at the speed limit the entire trip and stop just once, for instance). If you end up in traffic the whole way and drive at half the speed limit, you will miss that goal and therefore likely miss your objective of arriving on time.
In my own agency, I’ve found juggling the optimal mix of vision, objectives, strategy, planning, and goals hard. There are a lot of moving parts and numerous internal and external forces pushing against the potential for success. It takes wisdom, discipline, and leadership to manage these all well and few of us are experts at all of this—especially if we’re dreamers and visionaries.
Something I’m working to implement more intentionally with my own business and with the clients I am advising is better goal-setting.
A vision without objectives is unlikely to be realized.
Objectives without a strategy are unlikely to be achieved.
A strategy without a plan is unlikely to lead anywhere.
A plan without goals is unlikely to succeed.
And, goals without a framework will rarely be reached (and certainly not exceeded).
Goal-setting is hard. Where do you start? What’s the difference between an objective and a goal? How do you keep track of goals or measure success or failure?
A framework I am using more intentionally with my own business and my clients is the concept of “SMART” goals.
It’s really quite simple. But also surprisingly profound.
I don’t need to write about the details or nuances of effectively managing SMART goals because the internet is full of good articles on this. (I do recommend Asana’s article on how to write SMART goals (and why they matter).)
As you begin to gut-check your goals through the SMART lens, you find that you quickly find yourself setting more achievable goals. It’s easier to come up with goals that have a real chance of helping you get where you’re wanting to go. And, it’s easier to weave goal-setting, goal-checking, and goal-achieving into your day-to-day or month-to-month flow of growing your business. It’s easier to be accountable and guide others to take responsibility for their roles.
Obviously, none of this works without a solid vision. You must have a “North Star” to inform and guide your objectives, strategies, and plans. But, to achieve anything in the long-term, you need to have goals—that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.
(Incidentally, most businesses I’ve worked with don’t use adequate—or any—tools or systems to set, track, and manage any of this. I’ve tried most of them and I am coming full circle to re-adopting Asana for my own work and for the clients I’m more hands-on with.)