Goals, Planning, and Execution:
Turning Intentions Into a Road Map
After taking a break for the holidays, we're back with our first issue of 2014. I have great dreams for the magazine this year. There's a lot of work to do, because Startups After 50 is itself still in the startup phase.
And what about you? What are your dreams in 2014 for your business or your potential startup?
Whatever our dreams, we always have to keep in mind that business success is built on dreams, but dreams alone never built a business. While businesses always start with dreams, they succeed only through execution of goals and plans.
Dreams are aspirations. They are statements of our good intentions. But as I said recently in a tweet, "If good intentions were enough, we would always succeed at what we do, because we always start with the best of intentions."
The purpose of goal-setting and planning is to provide the bridge between intention and execution. By its very nature, execution demands goals and a plan against which to execute.
The word "execution" comes from a Latin term meaning "to follow through." The effectiveness of our execution is a measure of how well we follow through, not just with our intentions, but on the goals and plans that spring from these intentions.
It's interesting that our term "execution" originated with the Romans, for they were masters at executing plans, tactics, and strategies. At the peak of their success, they were unrivaled in the discipline which they maintained and the rigor with which they applied themselves to their plans. When that discipline and rigor began to wither, the Roman Empire started to crumble.
Things are no different today. Success hinges on execution. If you're going to hold yourself accountable this year for only one thing, hold yourself accountable for executing your plan.
This presupposes, of course, that you have a plan for the year. A real plan. Not a vague notion of what you want to accomplish. But a realistic, concrete plan. One that is well-conceived and well-articulated. This means that we must give enough reflective time and energy to the plan that it is conceptually put together well. And we need to write it out so that we gain greater clarity both in expressing it and understanding it.
Creating a Roadmap for Success
For this to be possible, your goals for the year must be set out with precision. Plans are simply roadmaps for achieving a set of goals. If the goals are imprecise, the roadmap will be a poor navigational guide.
Someone recently said that his goal for his startup in 2014 is to "have my business up and running by the end of the year." Sadly, he believed that this was really a goal. And while it might be a goal in the loosest sense of the word, it's not the kind of goal that allows you to develop a great roadmap.
Why not? Because the statement is too vague. What does "up and running" mean? Does it mean that you have a bank account and business license? Does it mean that you've reached break-even on cash flow? Does it mean that you have your team in place to provide an on-going sound operation? Any of these far-ranging scenarios could qualify as "up and running."
If "up and running" means having a business license and a bank account by the end of the year, then state the goal that way. "By the end of the year I will have formed my company legally, acquired the necessary business licenses, and opened a corporate bank account."
Drilling Down to the Specifics
Perhaps the greatest contributor to poor or inadequate execution is the failure to state goals in phrases that are specific and precise. Once you've made the first draft of your goals, study each one and ask, "Do I need to define this goal more explicitly?"
Say that your goal is "to be profitable by the end of the year." This goals seems straightforward enough. It's certainly measurable, and it's tied to a specific target date. But as stated, it begs a series of questions.
What level of profitablity? Profitable at what margins? And which products or services should be the primary contributors to this profitability? How much should these key products or services contribute to your profitable status?
One way to build greater specificity into your goals is by asking one simple question. It's a question that I often pose to my client's when helping them set goals. I ask, "When you reach the target date for this goal, what will you be seeing, hearing, or experiencing that will tell you that you really nailed it?"
Your answer to this question will point you to added details that should perhaps be incorporated into the language of your goal to give it greater clarity, greater specificity, and more oomph.
Making Planning Easier
When we drive greater specificity into our goals, laying out our plan of action becomes far easier. How much simpler it is to plan a vacation when our goal is to "go to Los Angeles and spend three days at Disneyland" as opposed to "go to California and visit theme parks."
By making the planning easier, you then gain an added benefit. You can more quickly foresee the investments and tradeoffs that you must make (whether in funding, time, or energy) to achieve your goals. And concurrently you simplify the process of defining the milestones that you will use to measure progress toward your goal.
There's an old adage in management, "If you don't have time to plan, you don't have time to do anything else." Don't short-change the attention you give to planning. As I said in another tweet recently, "If you don't have stated goals and target dates, you don't have a plan. You only have intentions."
I have great dreams for this magazine in 2014. A lot of good intentions. Right now I'm in the process of converting these intentions into plans. If you don't have a detailed plan of action for your business in 2014, why don't you join me in translating intentions into a roadmap for effective execution?
This article first appeared in Encore Entrepreneur inbox magazine on January 6, 2014.
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