Bricklayers

Don’t look at the tree to get things done!

Do you ever feel like you are working hard but are not getting the right important things done? There is an easy way to turn this around. Before sharing my vision on how to get things done, let me start with a good dialogue from Alice in Wonderland:

“Could you tell me which direction I need to go?”
“That depends on where you want to go”, said the cat
“I don’t know, it doesn’t really matter”, said Alice.
“Then it also doesn’t matter which road you take”, said the cat


This dialogue holds the keys to getting the right things done. It shows the importance of setting direction, which we discussed in our previous blog “What is your entry strategy?”. And it also shows the importance of clear goal setting. Goals that are not subject to personal interpretation.

Millions of books have been written about getting things done, like the best-selling book conveniently called ‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen. Now I don’t claim to be anywhere near David Allen, but the art of SMART goal setting has worked really well, at least for me and for our customers. Setting SMART goals means you can clarify your ideas, focus your efforts, use your time and resources productively, and increase your chances of achieving what you want in life.

In a survey done at Harvard 13% had goals, of which 3% were written goals. 20 years later, the 13% were earning twice as much as the other 87%. However, the 3% that had written goals were worth more than the other 97%.

Of course, goal setting is not just about making money, this is merely an example. You go where you focus your attention to. Like when I had my first motorcycle driving lesson the first thing the instructor told me was “if you want to stay in one piece, don’t look straight ahead to where your front tire is pointing to, but look to where you actually want to go. If you look at tree straight ahead, you’ll hit the tree straight ahead”.

But how to formulate the goals for your business, to assure that you achieve those instead of hitting that tree? Make your goals SMART.
You now might think SMART goal setting is not new for you. However, our experience is that most organizations fail to apply this simple method. Therefore, I will share my thoughts about how to use it successfully.

Let me use a simple example to explain the benefits of a SMART goal. “Our factory has to be safe” is a great example of a bad goal. What is it that you want to accomplish? By when? And how do you know whether you have reached this? Think of a goal you would like to achieve. It can be anything, personal or professional. Take a piece of paper and go through the 5 steps below:

1. Specific
Is your goal precise? Is it detailed? The more specific, the better you can focus and the bigger the chance of success. Try to answer the following questions:

  • What do I want to accomplish?
  • Why is this goal important?
  • Who is involved?
  • Where is it located?
  • Which resources or limits are involved?

    Think about the “why”. Is this a goal YOU want to achieve? What is in it for you? The narrower your goal, the more you will understand the steps necessary to achieve it.

    Applying this to the example you could say “Our goal is to have 0 lost time accidents every year”

    2. Measurable
    If you do not include any criteria to measure your goal, how will you know if you are on the right track? How will you know whether you have reached your goals? To make a goal measurable, ask yourself:

  • How many/much?
  • How do I know if I have reached my goal?
  • What is my indicator of progress?

    For our example it is easy – the amount of lost time incidents in your factory – but this isn’t always as easy as it looks. Measurable goals can also go a long way in refining what exactly it is that you want. Defining the physical manifestations of your goal or objective makes it clearer, and easier to reach.

    Please note that this part does not cover what you should measure in order to reach your goal. You need to install additional leading indicators that tell you throughout the year if the strategies you are applying to stay on 0 are working. More about that in one of our future blogs on how to set the right metrics.

    3. Achievable
    Your goal also needs to be realistic and attainable to be successful. In other words, it should stretch your abilities but remain possible. If something is out of your reach you will soon lose the energy to reach it since you already know you are going to fail whatever you do. An achievable goal will usually answer questions like:

  • How can I accomplish this goal?
  • How realistic is the goal, based on other constraints, such as financial factors?

    Looking at our example we need more context. What is the current amount of lost time accidents? Is it even being measured? If you are currently at 20, is it realistic to go for 0 this year? Of course, it is desirable, everybody wants their personnel to be safe, but is it realistic? Is it going to motivate people?

    4. Relevant
    Is goal relevant or are there other priorities that might not be in line with this goal? If it is only relevant to you, will you be able to get all the support and resources you need to get there? A relevant goal can answer “yes” to these questions:

  • Does this seem worthwhile?
  • Is this the right time?
  • Does this match our other efforts/needs?
  • Am I the right person to reach this goal?
  • Is it applicable in the current socio-economic environment?

    Taking our example again, this can be a bit tricky. After all, safety should always be nr. 1, so how could there be conflicting priorities? But let us say you are in the middle the ramp-up of your new factory. Everybody is still figuring out how the machines even work, you are trying to get your first products ready to be shipped. Yes, safety is a priority, but you first need to stabilize production before you even know where the unsafe areas are. Look at your own goal. Is this really the time to go for it?

    5. Time-bound
    If you do not have a target date, you will lose the motivation to focus. Deadlines help to stay on top of it and prevent everyday tasks to take priority over your longer-term goals. It will also help you to break down your goal in smaller pieces and set milestones A time-bound goal will usually answer these questions:

  • When?
  • What can I do six months from now?
  • What can I do six weeks from now?
  • What can I do today?

    The example already had a time element in it: This year. You can make it even more specific by saying 2020. Force yourself towards a deadline!

    Were you able to make your goal SMART? Great! Some might think that this inhibits creativity. I believe it creates the boundaries in which people can demonstrate their creativity without being whistled back because they are going in the wrong direction. Others might think that your organisation will lose flexibility. I believe you will now have controlled flexibility. You can identify in an earlier stage if you are going to make it. You can consciously make the decision to pivot or persevere. There is absolutely no shame in deviating from your goals if they do not serve you anymore due to whatever (unforeseen) circumstances. The fact that you have made them SMART enables you to adjust course instead of hitting the tree.

    I encourage you to take a closer look at what it is that you want to achieve, either personally or professionally, individually or from a team’s perspective, and take it to the next level.

    In our next blog post we will share our view on how you can achieve your goals. Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.
    Do you want to learn more about how to set direction? Read our previous blog “What is your entry strategy?”
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