Clear goals or shared goals?

Global teams consistently report frustration with their goals. How on earth can this be? Setting goals is management 101. We live in an era which is in love with goals. There is an army of TLA (three letter abbreviations) and MLA (multi letter abbreviations) in support of goal setting: you can have MBO, PDP, KPI, SMART goals and the whole language of financial and quality goals: ROI, ROE, six sigma, CSI and many more.

So how can goals be unclear? There are two problems: perspective and understanding


At the top of the mountain, everything is very clear. You can see the distant goals. You have had plenty of time to discuss and refine the goals, and to understand what it will take to get there.

At the bottom of the mountain, you can see the chickens in the yard, but you can not see the distant goals. You are more concerned with the here and now. What is very clear at the top of the mountain is invisible at the bottom of the mountain; the call to conquer distant lands simply makes no sense when you are focused on milking the cows. It is an irrelevant and unimaginable goal.

Just because the goal is clear to you, do not assume it will be clear to anyone else. You are not in their position, and you have had more time to internalise the goal than they have.


Even when you have carefully explained and announced your goals, you may well find that no one really understands the goal. They may have heard you talk about “putting customers first” or whatever it may be, but that is not enough. It is easy to communicate what the goal is; it is much harder to communicate why the goal matters. You have to communicate the why as much as you communicate the what.

You have probably had many meetings where you have discussed the goal and all the fine trade-offs it involves. You can not expect people who are in very different contexts from you to suddenly grasp the nuances of all these trade-offs at the end of your brilliant 45 minute speech. You have to help your team go through the same thinking process you went through. Encourage a discussion about all the difficult trade-offs; let them explore specific scenarios and alternatives. This may seem like wasting time, but it is not. This is how you ensure that the team internalises the goal.

At the end of one three year tour a duty an expat CEO said that coming up with the goal probably took 20% of his time; 80% of his time was spent on communicating it. But it was worth it: the goal moved from being an unclear goal, to a clear goal to a clear and shared goal which everyone understood and bought into.

Once your team has internalised the goals, they will do the right things without you always having to look over their shoulders. Clear goals are powerful but hard to achieve. Shared goals are even harder to achieve but even more powerful.

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