Sunday, November 4, 2012

Goals Acceptance by Different Groups of People

During the last few years I have had many talks about goals and goal management with different people. And, every time, I have received a variety of responses. One day a discussion might be very simple--just a few words would be enough to understand each other. Another day, and with a different group, it might be very difficult--the talk might be long and painful, and end with us still unable to get through a few basic principles. Usually, I get a mixed audience in which a few people show support, the majority passively listen, and a few act aggressively and criticize every little thing.

Before, in those situations, I tried to look for a problem inside myself: Why I was not prepared? What did I do or say wrong? But a few days ago I found some interesting information on how different types of people relate towards goals. I can’t say how accurate the data is, but overall it matches my own experience quite well.

In the information I found, the author divided all of humanity into four categories by their way of thinking:

  • Victims (about 30% of the population) - People who consider themselves victims of a situation or a system. They passively sit and wait for somebody to come and save them, or wait until the next disaster strikes.
  • Survivors (half of the population - approximately 50%) – People whose life, by their own opinion, is at the mercy of their environment or market conditions. They live every single day without an action plan or goals. They are reactive. They wait until a problem arises or a change occurs. When it happens, they react with decisions that, when carried out, will put them back in their comfort zone.
  • Dreamers (about 10% of the population) – Active people, who constantly generate ideas. While they may think of new ideas and solutions, they rarely act upon them and do not make the necessary steps to achieve them.
  • Innovators (less than 10% the of population) – The smallest group of people, who are not only able to generate new ideas, but also actively turn them into reality. Such people set clear goals for themselves, develop action plans, and reach them with persistence and energy.

From these descriptions we can see how people from different categories may react to goals:

  • As victims do not believe in their strength and instead wait for someone to save them, they most likely will not see much of a reason to goals and therefore view them negatively. These people, I assume, create the most aggressive part of my audiences.

  • Survivors, when presented with goals, might view them favorably. They may temporarily leave their comfort zones to achieve a few small improvements. On the other hand, they may also look at goals as a negative element and fear that they will cause them a loss of stability. Because of these two possibilities, they would most likely react neutrally when talked to about goals.
  • Dreamers react positively to goals, but to them they are usually just another dream that they think will become a reality by itself somehow. Realistic analysis, clear action planning, and the work towards goals is not interesting or even desirable to them.
  • Finally, only innovators will look at goals and goal management as a tool and as one of the most important life skills.

After viewing this information, it is now more clear to me why I’m getting such diverse responses. In order to get to different categories of people, I have to present my material in different ways. Some motivators attract people by presenting God’s good will and faith. Others offer people success by teaching them to employ their intuition and program themselves to reach success with minimal effort. Finally, some teachers provide listeners with clear instructions to be followed precisely step by step. I know it is good to learn from famous authors who teach on personal success. However, I’m still concerned as to how can I mix all of that into one short presentation. As my presentations stay at a relatively formal level, and rely mostly on knowledge rather than emotions, it is especially difficult to incorporate such methods. I am encouraged, though, by the fact that the negative reactions were not because of myself, and, with more practice, I know I will be able to reach all four groups of people.

Goals Discovery Techniques

If you already have clearly defined goals, then you may use a variety of techniques to work with them. You can analyze your goals, formulate action plans, self-motivate, delegate, or create subgoals to get started on. However, before getting to that point, some of you may be puzzled with the question, “How do I start?” or, “Where do I get those goals?”

The reality is that you already have goals. Any action (or even the absence of an action) has some intention or goal behind it--“go to the second floor,” “step up,” “reach down to pick up that toy.” People are just so used to living with these type of small goals that they stop noticing them. We walk where we want to; we create what dinner we want to eat. At work we do what we are told, and we perform job functions in a day-in/day-out manner. In this post I’ll present a few techniques to discover your existing goals. These techniques apply not only to your work or personal life, but also to overall organizational management.

We can find many of our directions and set goals by looking at the following areas:

  • Position descriptions, organizational or departmental charters – These are documents with descriptions of the responsibilities of a person, group, or an entire organization. In them, you can usually find key functional and non-functional goals.
  • Directions and tasks set by higher management – When a boss gives his subordinates a task or directive, it becomes a goal that has to be achieved.
  • Analysis of informal communication – Quite often, informal conversations and information exchanges may carry goals with them. To find them you have to analyze which pieces of information convery certain responsibilities--pieces of information that cannot be ignored and may lead you to action.
  • Analysis of problems and opportunities – A list of problems and opportunities, when examined, can appear as a set of problem-oriented goals.
  • Analysis of business processes – Any process is created to reach one or more goals. Simply ask why a process exists, and you can extract its related goals in explicit form. Process actions are also goals, but are at a lower level – i.e. subgoals.
  • Analysis of execution patterns – Similar to business processes, but in this case it applies to patterns that are not formally defined. These will require further examination.
  • Personal Mission, vision - Ask yourself what the purpose of your existence as an employee,  person, or family member is in order to help you define your top-level goals. This may require some soul searching.
  • Analysis of core values – Ask questions like, “What is most important for me or my organization?” and, “How do these activities and goals apply to both areas?” to discover background and non-functional goals.
  • Vision for 1, 3, 5+ years – Asking questions about where you would like to be, or where you would like your organization to be in 1, 3, or 5 years may help you to find some higher-level and long-term goals.
  • Analysis of time logs and to-do lists – If you consider that any action must have a reason behind it, then an analysis of where time has been spent could also help you discover goals. Get (or create) a list of things to do during a day. Then analyze that list and why those activities are needed. Important tasks may be based around personal goals.
  • Analysis of desires – Ask yourself the questions, “What would I like in this area of my life?” “What would I like to see happen in my work or family?” and then formulate your answers as goals. Often, goals that are based on desires have a real grounding and may, to some extent, direct our behaviors.

When you complete your analysis of the areas above, you’ll get a bunch of goals in different forms and sizes. The next move is to create a clear goal structure. To do that, simply follow these steps:

  1. Improve the definitions of your goals. Use the 5W and SMART methods (that have been presented in previous posts).
  2. Group repeating functional goals under generalizations. For instance, goals like “blow up a red balloon,” “blow up a green balloon,” and “blow up 5 balloons,” can be grouped together into a general “blow up balloon” goal.
  3. Extract non-functional background goals. Such goals usually reach across other goals and define overall requirements on what work will be done. Typical non-functional goals relate to the economy, on time and on budget completion, effectiveness, and satisfaction.
  4. Continue asking questions such as “Why does this work?” or “Why does this happen?” to define relations between subgoals and their upper goals. Continue this process until you reach the top-level goals related to the mission or purpose of existence of the goals. You can even use questions like these to discover missing upper level goals. Don’t be confused if a goal has multiple upper goals related to it. Strict goal hierarchy is a constraint set by someone else, and in the real life the goal structure is a mesh, not a tree.
  5. Finally, to further relate goals to each other and solidify your goal structure, start from your top goals and work your way down. Ask questions like, “How will I do this?” to help discover and define missing subgoals. Continue this process until you reach your bottom elementary goals.

After you’ve found your goals and have set them to a structure, you’ll be able to get moving on them quickly and efficiently.

Good luck in your discoveries!

Saturday, November 3, 2012

3 Categories of Goals

Every organization has a lot of goals. Goals touch different aspects of organization management and may appear in various shapes and forms. In order for the introduction of goal-oriented management to be successful, these goals must be defined explicitly and they have to be as complete as possible. For the best results, the maximum number of activities performed by workers throughout their day should all be linked to these concrete explicit goals.

However, very few managers have a solid understanding of what kinds of goals exist in their organization and where to find them. Others may look for goals of only one or two kinds, and then tend to ignore the rest. As a result, their goal sets become incomplete and cover only part of the organizational activities. At the same time, the other unaddressed activities can carry on by themselves and be performed chaotically. That “hidden part of the iceberg” quite often sinks any noble attempt to introduce goal-orientation into organizational management. Activities based on goals are defined with an assumption of certain resources and time frames, but uncontrolled activities unexpectedly consume those resources and time and lead toward the failure of the set activities.

In order to achieve better coverage, we recommend that organizations know and consider the three following categories of goals:

  • Functional goals - Repeating goals that are a part of regular operations. Such goals have well-defined beginnings and endings, established execution patterns, and can be integrated into standard business processes.

Examples: The implementation of a software component, a product release, or the processing of a client’s order.

  • Non-functional goals - Goals that set overall operational principles, and may be applicable to different types of activities. These goals do not usually have an explicitly specified end. As they apply to many different activities, they define how work will be performed, without saying what will be performed. Quite often, goals from this category are used as organizational Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

Examples: Resource economy, safety requirements, client satisfaction requirements, and product quality requirements.

  • Problem-oriented goals - One-time goals set to address unique problems or to improve existing processes. These goals have clear success criteria, but because they are unique to their problem or issue, they usually lack execution patterns. Problem-oriented goals are the most difficult to automate. Defining and reaching them often require creative human abilities.

Examples: Changing an organizational structure, entering a new market, the optimization of business processes, or the introduction of a new business model.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Critical Mistake Made by Process Creators

When creating a process, it often happens that there is a confusion and mismanagement of operations and end goals. Goals can be lost and the organization might be left with only a mess of processes and procedures. In this post, I will state why this happens and how it can be fixed.

A process itself is not hard to understand. It can be defined simply as a sequence of actions. However, when a process is created, these actions can be mixed up with a lot of words that do not clearly define what needs to be done. We can begin to see why this happens by defining what actions themselves are.

There are two ways to define an action: as an action-state or as an action-operation (or act). In the first case, an action-state is defined as a goal--a desired state in the future which is planned to be achieved by doing something. The focus here is on that desired future state. In the second case, an action-operation is defined as a process to complete an action. It focuses on how to do something.
I’ll try to explain this with a simple example. Imagine an action-state defined as “move one meter ahead.” As we can see, the focus here is on the future state: the expected position of a person will be moved one meter off of his or her current position. The related action-operation may sound something like “step forward.” These two directions look identical to most people. However, the focus in the second case is on the execution of the particular operation--how to move one meter ahead.

In that simple example the difference between the two terms is almost unnoticeable. One step almost always results in moving 1 meter forward. We understand this so well that if we need somebody to move one meter ahead, we almost always tell them: “step forward” instead of “move one meter ahead.” We use the action-operation instead of the action-state. In this and other ways, in our everyday experience we are accustomed to substituting one concept with another--some elementary goal is substituted with an elementary operation that will lead to the goal. We are so used to doing that we often extend that approach to more complex cases. And it is here that we get into trouble. We sometimes mix up processes with their end goals.

Let’s look at another more complex example:

An officer and a soldier are sitting in a trench before a constantly moving enemy. 


The officer commands the soldier, “Shoot!”

The soldier asks, “Where should I shoot?”

The officer clarifies, “Shoot ahead!”

Meanwhile the enemy is moving...

Shot - Bang! - missed...

The officer says, “What are you doing? Aim left!”

The enemy keeps moving...

Shot - Bang! - missed...

The officer roars, “#$#$%!! Aim right!”


The military realized the issue with this example a long time ago. For a while, NATO has had a standard formula to issue commands. It is called “5W,” which stands for “Who,” “What,” “Where,” “When,” and “Why.” Any trained officer in a similar situation to the one above would command a soldier like this: “Private Smith, upon my command hit the moving enemy target ahead 100 meters.” As we can see here, the command is formulated as a goal and not as an operation like the orders in the example above. The execution of such a command will lead to the desired result much faster and more effectively.

Now that we see the problem with using action-operations instead of action-states, let’s go back to processes.

Unfortunately, there are no clear directions on how to define actions in a process. Everyone has the freedom to do it anyway they like. Because of that, many process creators fall into a habit which leads to problems:

  1. They make assumptions regarding the initial state of the process (which could be far in the future and not well known)
  2. They make assumptions using non-changing goals (but goals sometimes change)
  3. They make assumptions that the planned operation (or operations) will produce the expected results and transform the assumed initial state into the desired state.

They say “step forward” when they should really say “move one meter ahead.” Because they assume that everyone is 6 feet tall (an initial state), they think that their goal of moving one meter ahead will be accomplished with a single step (that the operation with the assumed initial state will reach the desired state).

All of that leads to a critical mistake - a substitution of a goal with an operation, a replacement of “what” with “how.”  When this happens, goals (“what”) disappear, and only a meaningless sequence of operations (“how”) remains. That sequence may lead to the desired results, but it does not happen often--and usually only happens with a large amount of luck.

Surely, everyone of us has met such things in our life. There is a lot of meaningless movement and a lot of sweat, time and resources are spent, everything is done by the book, but the results are minimal. This is because the goals have been lost! Workers have been told to “shoot” without being given a clear order or goal/action-state. Of course, process creators see this problem. Some of them even try to address it by creating more processes to anticipate all possible problems and cases, introducing alternative flows, and so on. But is it possible to predict everything that may happen? And is it really necessary? Would it be easier just to say what is required, and then leave how up to a qualified executor, who will assess the situation and apply operations that will lead directly to the desired results?

If a pattern or process exists that works well, then perfect--keep using it! Explicit goals will add more sense to it. But if a process does not exist, or if it’s not optimal, then goals will clearly point the direction to go and will help to define a new and better sequence of actions which are suitable to the current situation.