Goals: How Strategic Flexibility Reigns

Goals -- Clock and message: It's time to talk about goals.

You could say I have been obsessed with goals and getting things done for most of my life, and I’m a firm believer in the wisdom shared by Ken Blanchard, PhD that “All good performance starts with clear goals.”

While I remember myself as driven and ambitious from a young age, my relationship with goals has changed over the years. My younger self saw goals and plans to achieved them as written in stone. If I couldn’t achieve one fully as established from the get-go, I considered the result a total failure. My older and somewhat wiser self sees them as strategic guides that must be flexible to achieve success, acknowledging that environments, opportunities, challenges, and priorities change over time.

One of the greatest lessons that should come out of the COVID-19 pandemic is the importance of constantly considering current realities and probable future situations while focusing on creating and accomplishing goals. In an instant, our lives as we knew them were put on pause.

Since March 2020, some businesses closed temporarily; some closed for good. Some non-essential workers shifted to remote work; some were furloughed or permanently terminated. Some people saw their layoffs as unemployment sentences, where they’d have to wait till the perfect jobs reappeared in the job market. At the same time, some people saw opportunities in providing new services and products in unexpected areas. How many people dusted off their sewing machines to create and sell masks?

Considering making adjustments is not abandoning objectives or missions. It’s not an excuse to do less. Sometimes, goals are adjusted up, increasing desired results. The ones that are achieved long before their deadlines and not adjusted up when appropriate could lead to future inefficiencies.

I learned firsthand about the necessity and benefits of continuously reviewing and considering adjusting goals when I was a human resources director in hotels. As a member of executive management teams, I was part of regular discussions on occupancy forecasting, seasonality, challenges that were in and out of our control, adjusting promotions, scheduling maintenance during lower occupancies, inventory logistics, and other planning. This helped informed my HR team’s regular discussions on staffing, hiring, training, and enrichment. Properties that embraced an informed approach to setting, reviewing, and adjusting goals fared much better than their competitors.

While we know the most successful people are both driven and flexible, there still are managers who are resistant to goal modifications. Whether they’re generally resistant to change, they don’t understand the benefits, they don’t know how to do it, or they’re holding onto the archaic belief that unrealistic goals encourage employees to do more, they’re setting themselves and their teams up for failure and for their eventual loss of motivation.

Unless you’re self-employed or the top leader in an organization, you may need to adopt existing goals and their processes. If you’re seeking new employment, asking questions about goals and other topics is key to figuring out if a position and organization could be the right fit for you.

Here are some suggested questions that you can adjust for each situation and your style:

  • How are goals set?
  • Who is involved in setting goals?
  • Are goals mission-driven?
  • Are there organizational and team goals?
  • Do all individual goals roll up to organizational ones in support of the mission?
  • What processes are in place to review and adjust goals?
  • How do goals impact performance evaluations, bonuses, raises, compensation, etc.?
  • What can you tell me about my predecessor’s results with goals?
  • What happens when new projects may impede on achieving objectives?
  • What are the current goals for this position? What do you expect them to be next year?

For more than 25 years, I’ve taught people that interviews are a two-way street. Job candidates need to be prepared with questions that will help them understand the big picture and small details of new opportunities. The way goals are set and managed makes a significant impact on your work and on you. Figuring out if a position, team, culture, manager, and goal management are the right fit for you is essential for your success and happiness.