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Goal-setting, strategic planning season in effect

Actually, it has been in effect for several months for many organizations. Budget discussions often start in August even though the company operates on a calendar year.  But there is something about this time of year that causes people tend to look forward.  It probably has a lot to do with New Year’s resolutions and the turn of the calendar.  Indeed, Dec. 31 is the end of the calendar year, by which many small businesses and sole proprietors operate.  Consequently, it is the end of the tax year.  

Now is the season for starting over, for thinking about those things that should have or could have been done differently, and then setting goals and plans for the upcoming year.  It is also the time when too much emphasis can be put on planning instead of execution.    If the danger of being great is being good, as author Jim Collins says in “Good to Great,” then it is possible that the danger of good execution is undue emphasis on planning and goal-setting.  

Goal-setting and planning should also be done on a personal basis.  This writer advocates a personal goal-setting retreat at least once a year.  An individual should take time to get away to a quiet place for at least 24 hours and take stock of the past year and the one ahead.  This retreat should be one where only a paper and pen are used.  The laptop stays at home, and the cell phone is only for emergencies.  This is a time for contemplation and reflection.

Company goal-setting and planning retreats often include only the leadership team or senior management.  This is probably as it should be, but if done without proper communication, it can have a negative effect on operations.  This is because it can be seen as an example of management being out of touch with workers.  Employees should not have the notion that senior management is off somewhere conspiring against them.   One way to avoid this issue is to have a series of company-wide listening sessions at which time employees are given the opportunity to make suggestions, comments and put forth ideas about the future of the company.  Listening sessions should be structured so that each employee feels involved and engaged so that he or she buys into the strategic plan.  One of the reasons that small breakout groups are used so often is that many people feel intimidated when having to speak in front of a large group or when management is present.  Anonymity is useful tool for gathering information and discovering true feelings about the organization.  Information from the listening sessions is then incorporated in the management retreat.

The steps involved in the strategic planning process are (1) situational analysis, (2) visioning, (3) goal-setting and (4) implementation.  Steps 1 – 3 are usually accomplished at the retreat.  Implementation takes much longer.  Unfortunately, the implementers often leave the retreat full of enthusiasm only to find that the execution, i.e. implementation of the goals and plans is much less exciting.  That is why a significant portion of the retreat should be a discussion of how the goals will be accomplished.  For every goal adopted at the retreat, someone should be responsible for its implementation.  This is easier said than done if the organization is comprised of mostly volunteers.  Nevertheless, each goal should have a champion or champions.  One method that facilitators use to identify champions in volunteer organizations is to have those who say they will be champions to literally sign their names to the goal or goals that they will be personally responsible for achieving.  During the following year, those champions are then asked to report on the progress of the goals.  Some of the most successful organizations post the goals and their progress during the year to management and employees.  Knowing that others will see this progress report is a strong motivator for the champions to see that the goals are being implemented.

Before getting to far into the goal-setting process at a retreat there should be a time of bonding and “buying-in” for the participants.  This will be very brief if the attendees work with each other on a daily basis.  For others, there might be a considerable time spent on this part of the retreat.  The amount of time on this activity will then vary accordingly.  The activity itself should also be appropriate. So-called “touchy-feely” activities are extremely useful some, while other groups may find these personally offensive.  Also, physical activities, such as rope courses and trust exercises, should be proper to the retreat.  No one should feel threatened.  The producers of the GEICO Insurance commercial in which the boss tells the gecko that to catch him as he falls backwards (the trust exercise) surely must have been thinking of such retreats.

Goal-setting is critical to the success of any organization.  As the saying goes, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”  Or perhaps one of Yogi Berra’s quotes is even more appropriate:  “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”

So as 2010 approaches, it is time to take stock of the current situation and make plans and goals to ensure that the road taken is the one the organization wishes to travel by.  


Phil Hardwick is coordinator of capacity development at the John C. Stennis Institute of Government. Contact him at phil@philhardwick.com.


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