Confusing Goals and Purpose

I was recently reviewing a non-profit’s strategic plan and came away a bit puzzled. Everything was in order – sort of – but possibly too much so.

How can that be?

Too many words.

Clarity of purpose

Clarity of purpose

The mission statement was quite lengthy. I needed to zero in on a few key verbs and nouns to make it come alive and make sense. My guess? It was put together by committee.

Possibly more problematic was that it was supported by a great many goals – eight, in fact. Is that actually a problem? Yes, I think it is. It comes across as a laundry list to satisfy everyone that was involved in coming up with what the organization should be focusing on.

Now, I suppose if resources are unlimited and people are keen to pour their hearts and souls into the work, that’s great. However, this is rarely the case. Even it were so, there would be the risk that a bunch of projects end up all working in isolation and running amok.

Divide-and-conquer is fine, where the organization’s overall purpose is crystal clear. But something tells me that a wordy mission statement and a large collection of goals results in a recipe for failure down the road. There will come a time when someone lifts their head and sees that things are working at cross-purposes. Possibly resources will shrink and when the largesse is gone, unhelpful competition will set in. People will be in a bad mood.

How will the organization’s executive or Board know what to eliminate?

All roads lead back to objective-setting along with metrics of success. These metrics can be strict or loose (e.g., specific revenue targets or just on-a-scale-of-one-to-five-how-do-you-feel), as long as they’re measured consistently and are heading in a desired direction (up or down). If any initiative can’t be seen to be supporting the target for the metric, it makes it easier, and less political, to make tough decisions for which continue and which go onto the back burner. It’s not about winners and losers, but rather placing strategic bets and enough feedback loops to detect when course-correction is needed as quickly as possible.

Also, it actually makes it more rewarding to establish initiatives in the first place which are clearly “on-strategy.” Another effective way to separate the wheat from the chaff is simply to take a stab at communicating verbally to a group of outsiders what your organization is up to and how it’s going to add value to its constituency. Chatting about goals, success targets and resulting initiatives to someone else really helps to boil things down to basic common sense.

So, at your next strategy session, don’t allow bottom-up pet goals make the list. They certainly come from the right intention, but aren’t necessarily that helpful on their own. Start top-down and ensure that fewer goals and objectives – with metrics and targets – make the list and help provide clarity and purpose to all. PrioritizeBe clear.

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