Sunday, November 4, 2012

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!


  1. While I was reading books on achieving goals, many spent a large portion of time trying to teach the reader how to formulate goals. After completing these exercises, I was surprised to find that some of the "goals" I had thought I wanted turned out to not be that important. Imagine my shock when I discovered that things I had never even thought about actually turned out to be things I wanted to achieve. Something that really stuck with me was that once you determine that a particular "goal" isn't something you want to achieve, no matter how good or bad, you shouldn't continue trying to pursue the end result. For an individual, achieving goals is supposed to get you to a more satisfying position in your life. Achieving something that really isn't a goal, no matter how good, will not help you to be happy.

  2. 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.
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