I think the biggest reason that people, and companies, don’t achieve goals is that they forget to think through HOW the goal will be achieved.
How will the goal be accomplished?
Examples best illustrate the limited thinking we do when it comes to planning how we will accomplish our goals.
Objective (a.k.a. goal): lose 10 pounds by July 1st
When a person sets this goal, if you ask them how they will lose 10 pounds by July 1st they will probably tell you they are going to eat less and/or exercise more. A key result might be to eat 400 calories less a day. Another key result might be to exercise 5 days a week.
But does that dig deep enough to ensure success? How will they exercise more? The person needs to set aside more time in their day to exercise, they may need to get a gym membership or buy a new pair of running shoes. They may need a fitness buddy. They may need to coordinate schedules with their partner to watch the kids during their exercise time.
And how much exercise needs to be done in order to achieve the target date of July 1st? There are a lot of things that have to happen in order to make “more exercise” feasible and to map it to the time-bound goal of July 1st. But most goal planning stops short at “exercise more”.
Objective (a.k.a. goal): Increase website traffic by 20% next quarter.
If someone has this goal they will probably set off to optimize ’some’ website pages to be indexed better in organic search and secure some backlinks. Maybe a key result for this objective is to get 40 backlinks to the site. And another key result for this is to improve organic search rankings by 6 places on 3 key terms.
But does that tell you how they will do that? No. It tells you what they will attempt to accomplish, but it doesn’t tell you how.
And without thinking through how, it’s likely that somewhere along the way execution will falter and the goal will not be achieved. Because the person who needs to achieve this goal may have 3 other goals to achieve and when you add up everything they have to do in order to execute against the goal, it’s far more than one person can do in a quarter.
How will you get it done?
People who set goals rarely think through the “how” part with enough specificity. Often when I ask someone how they will achieve a goal they set they give me a blank stare and metaphorically scratch their head. Or give me a non-answer.
Every goal needs a set of associated tactics and initiatives that define what has to get done in order to achieve the goal. The easiest way to uncover this is to just keep asking how something will be achieved until you get to the root of what has to be done.
Ask yourself and your team how
Thinking through how a goal will be achieved actually reveals if the goal is achievable. It also can reveal that too many goals have been set (not enough resources and time to execute everything needed to achieve the goal).
Once you have identified Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) just set aside time to go through planning the execution. It really just starts with the question, “How will we do this?”.
The first answer will probably be pretty surface and simple. But you just keep asking yourselves “How” until you’ve constructed a plan you can execute against.
When you first start to do this you may get a lot of frustrated, exhausted, confused reactions. If the execution muscle hasn’t been developed in your team this will feel hard. It will feel like you are being too granular or circular. You will ask “How?” one more time and they will say “I just told you how!” and throw up their arms in the air.
That’s all normal and it’s part of building a culture of execution. Go slowly, don’t press too hard, but also don’t back off at the first hint of flustered push back. Be gentle in your “how” inquiry with your team, and with yourself.
It’s not uncommon to ask yourself how you will achieve a goal and come up blank. Just keep asking and keep digging. Ask for advice from peers and mentors too. A culture of execution (as well as “say-do”) is critical for your success, and so the pain of learning how to do this is worth it!
Add an execution step into your OKR planning
I’ve already professed my love of OKRs, and if you want to learn more check out this OKR primer. But the one shortcoming of OKRs is that they don’t incorporate the “how” at all. An objective is a goal. And a key result is a measurement of that goal.
But…the steps you will take to achieve that goal are nowhere in the OKR process. There is literally nothing about execution or how it will get done. When we don’t think about execution we don’t set ourselves up for success.
Thanks to Jim Keenan!
I have to give a nod to Jim Keenan who forced this concept down my throat many moons ago with his rigorous GSIT process for sales planning. He had me read the book Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done and it was a huge eye-opener for me. I think Execution should be on every leader’s reading list!