The Importance of Milestones

As I was driving in to work yesterday there was a story in the news about comments Bob Geldof had made about Al Gore‘s upcoming “Live Earth” show. One such comment was that he was concerned that Live Earth lacked any concrete objective for people to rally around.

Now many would argue “of course it does” – and granted there is the goal of environmental responsibility and of course stopping the, tragically ill-branded, Global Warming. But are those tangible objectives?

The challenge with mammoth goals such as stopping Global Warming is that in order to achieve them there are hundreds, thousands maybe even millions of other little tasks/steps that need to fall in to place in order to achieve them. The reality with Global Warming is that we’ll likely never completely fix it, and even if we do there will still be the need to maintain that momentum in order to ensure we don’t end up in the same problem again.

The big challenge with Global Warming is that rarely is the general population provided with a specific goal that can be measured and, in relative terms, be immediately realized. Compare “Live8” to “Live Earth” for instance. “Live Earth” isn’t going to stop Global Warming, yet it has that lofty goal attached to it. Live8 on the other hand was focused on pressuring world leaders to react to a specific issue in SUPPORT of the goal of ending poverty in Africa. A real, measurable result that the participating public got to share in almost in real time.

In Business there’s two types of goals you have to be aware of, the goal you’re presenting to the market and the goals you’re presenting internally. Many companies get so focused on the destination they forget to consider the route they’re going to take, and no business goes “as the crow flies”.

All to often people confuse their company’s “Vision” statement with their active business goals. Like Live8, your active goals should always support your ultimate vision, not be it.

Tackle The Biggest Issue First
So how do you determine which goals are a priority? Where do you start?

As a kid my dad taught me a trick for cleaning up my room which I still use to this day when cleaning up a mess at home, starting a project or re-evaluating my own goals here at Clay Tablet.

Imagine the vision is a clean room – you could just jump into it and start stuffing things in drawers, randomly hunting and pecking around the room with whatever catches your attention next. The room might get clean eventually but what has likely happened in the process is you’ve trashed adjacent rooms/closets etc. or even worse, you’ve spent hours thrashing and basically just moved the mess around.

I see examples of companies thrashing all the time, so focused (and panicked) about getting to the vision that they aimlessly flail at whatever pops into their head at that moment.

Instead, try stepping back from the situation, consider the vision and identify what has to happen in that room in order to get there. Pick up the clothes, put the books on the shelf (OCD crowd: alphabetize them), make bed, change sheets, etc.

Now what is the biggest issue in the way of getting to your vision. In the room example it’s probably the clothes on the floor as everything else requires you to move around the room to accomplish those tasks – Finally, mentally run down the remaining items so you have some sort of game plan, consider dependancies etc..

Flexibility
So now you’ve established your vision (Clean Room), your immediate goal (Clear floor) and your planned route to complete the vision (remaining items).

“Planned Route” is used quite deliberately – it’s absolutely critical that during the process you remain adaptive and flexible while maintaining focus. There’s a lot of crap on the floor but until you start cleaning you won’t know what’s under that crap. Is a shirt hiding a spilled can of pop? Will the room need a vacuum?

What’s behind the closet door? This is where focus comes in. Your vision is cleaning the room – while flexibility is important make sure to stick to your vision. Acknowledge the closet mess, even consider is it a bigger opportunity than the clean room. You don’t want to miss an even bigger opportunity because of tunnel-vision but consider carefully before changing your vision. In this case you’ll have a half clean room and likely a half clean closet before time (money) runs out.

Along the route to your vision things are going to pop-up, some will speed you up, others will slow you down – it’s basically a giant game of snakes and ladders. You need to be able to acknowledge, adapt and respond to the changing active goals of your business if you have any hope of succeeding.

Celebrate!
While you can save the big party for the day you realize the vision it is imperitive you find a way to acknowledge and celebrate the accomplishment of meeting active goals. This can be personal acknowledgment inside your own head but if you’re working with a team of people find some way to note that the goal that is appropriate to the scale of the achievement.

The ultimate vision for most businesses is a long, long ways off – celebrating the milestones keeps everyone motivated as they get measurable feedback that the company is advancing and still on track for its vision.

  • /pd

    Determine, what you don’t want to do and don’t do it :)-

    vision is about being 20/20.. I once did this exercise during a ‘clean up”

    I asked the staff, write down what are 20 most silliest things we do as a company.. and then write down 20 things that you don’t like doing..

    We culled the top 5 of each and made that top 10 items that we will not do as a person /company. This was tactical in nature, a part of a holistic strategic vision of culture change.

    I agree that the journey is more important then the destination. Definitely, celebration is one of the keys in keeping together a dream. At the end of the day, I always say, success is the byproduct of teamwork

    I think you also forgot the principle of– rewards failures and praise successes :)-

    btw, nice post !!