Communicate Your Goals!

Many years ago, during a board meeting, I once heard someone ask: “What was our corporate shared value of this year again?” And the CEO answered that it was courage. I didn’t even know there was a “corporate value of the year”. And it was almost Christmas! Perhaps the year-end results of the business had been a little better if a few more people in the organization had actually known that courage was valued and supported. Who knows? Who knew?

Let me share with you my secret technique that occasionally helps me in achieving my goals… I tell everyone about my goals!

I tell my friends about the goals that I have. When people know what my goals are, it tends to strengthen my own resolve to actually achieve them. I regularly get questions like “When is your book coming out?”, “How is that new business unit of yours? Any customers yet?” and “How far are you from becoming a billionaire?” These questions remind me about the goals that I set earlier. By communicating goals to friends and colleagues I make sure that the environment gently pushes me and keeps tab on my progress. It’s like handing over management of myself to the environment. It also helps that I do not want to hear someone saying “I knew it. I always thought you wouldn’t achieve it.” Keeping a goal to yourself is the easy way to failure. Because if you fail, cognitive dissonance kicks in and you simply convince yourself that your goal was never serious in the first place. So you tell people about your goal because you don’t want to fail. And that takes courage.

Someone once said to me that, according to research, documented goals had no measurable effect on the success of software projects (source unknown). My response was, “Of course, but the same applies to toilets.”

What matters is not the act of writing goals on paper. I can write anything I like on a piece of paper, and I’m sure that it will have no effect whatsoever on my project. Goal setting is about making sure that everyone in the organization acts in accordance with your boundaries and directives. Every day. All the time. As steering wheels, maintaining direction in an organization, your paper, plaques, and posters are totally inadequate. People must not just read about your goal. They must feel it in everything they do, weighing every action against it.

How?

By talking with people about your goal, and reviewing their actions. Also by asking questions, like “Do you still know what your goal is?” and “How is this action going to help us in achieving our goal?” A goal only works when the people in the system use it to evaluate their actions. It is a goal when they can recite it. It’s not a goal when only you can, at the end of the year, just before Christmas.

Therefore, when people are unable to answer such questions, take it as a hint that your approach to goal setting needs a little rework. And maybe some courage too…

This article will be part of the book Management 3.0: Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders. You can follow its progress here.

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  • C Gray

    With personal goals the opposite is said to be true, telling others makes you less likely to achieve (source: Shut up! Announcing your plans makes you less motivated to accomplish them. http://sivers.org/zipit)

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jurgenappelo Jurgen Appelo

    Very interesting, thanks for the link!

  • http://blog.brodzinski.com Pawel Brodzinski

    When it comes to companies or company leaders goals should be openly communicated. And usually they are. In the worst possible way. They are communicated in form of mission statements, key values etc which are just corporate bullshit.
    Line workers use to laugh over them. Middle management doesn’t care. The only group of people which cares is top management which came with these statements.
    So yes, make your goals public but put it straight and avoid putting all the pseudo-marketing crap over it.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jurgenappelo Jurgen Appelo

    Thanks Pawel, I think you just summarized an entire chapter of my book. 😉

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