The following story is based upon a number of situations. Names, locations, and other facts have been changed to illustrate and simplify the case presented. As such, any resulting similarity to any one business or person is coincidental.
Without personally meaningful goals, we end up wherever we end up. Without personally meaningful goals, our daily business grind crushes our motivation into a pile of burnout. Without personally meaningful goals, we lose motivation to do the same old same old—there’s no reason to dare crossing the rope bridge over the deep ravine, for nothing is over there that we want. And so goes the seminar talk about goals. Don’t get me wrong. I believe in what I just wrote and have seen goal orientation make a significant difference when put into practice. But I’ve also seen the other side, as in this case of my friend the waffler and his master plan.
Waffle was scheduled to come to my workshop on sales reluctance when he sent me an email. In short, he said he was eagerly awaiting the workshop and especially eager to work on setting attainable goals. Additionally, he wanted to spend some time, “Discussing assistance you could provide to develop a strategic marketing plan that will coincide with my goals, my company, my customers, the marketplace, and our changing industry.”
Hmm…it sounded to me like he was flying at 100,000 feet on this one. He continued, “My frustration is the constant ‘waffling’ I possess with regards to direction, focus, and execution. I find myself taking in information from all directions and unable to put a plan together that is well thought out, and one which I stick to. I’m having difficulty defining what our business is and what it should be, and then how to position my company in the marketplace for long term success with more ease.”
Sounds like that should be an easy job, doesn’t it? Well, I too thought that he would learn a lot in our session, but we really needed to put his expectation into perspective. That’s because I don’t know of any company that can absolutely decide now what it wants to be when it grows up.
General Motors didn’t get it right, long term, after all the success they had in the 1950’s through the 1980’s. Microsoft has a monopolistic money making machine, but is reeling with the recent challenge from Google. The New York Times has a near patent on being the national newspaper (if you don’t like the Times, substitute USA Today), but that hasn’t stopped their circulation drop. Even the lean Toyota team has had to adapt in this recent market.
You see, I’m all for goals and planning, but that doesn’t mean we set a goal (plan) today and then follow it forever. An old Yiddish phrase says, “Man plans; God laughs.” An old West Virginia phrase says, “Stuff happens.”
So why plan at all? Planned things happen best. The U.S. military had planned on a war in Europe when one broke out in the Middle East. Oops! Okay, but because they had planned, they knew where their resources were, the force status, and more. Because they had planned, they were able to quickly modify those plans to fit reality. If they had not planned, they would have had to start at ground zero, which would take a lot longer.
But, let’s not get too carried away with our human capacity to predict the future. It was most probable that a European war scenario would happen, but it didn’t. So, we have to be flexible and continue to plan at appropriate intervals.
My understanding is that Waffle wanted a single strategic plan defining his business today and in the future which coincided with his personal goals, his company, his customers, the market, and our changing industry. He wanted one that is well thought out and which he will be able to stick to over the long term so he will have an easier time succeeding.
Well, that’s a tall order if he wants to know the path to take without ever having to look at a map again. He wants to be secure in knowing he is going to be successful, regardless of what happens. That ain’t gonna happen because it goes against the laws of Mother Nature.