We've all heard the advice that travelers should enjoy the journey, not just the destination. I think this same advice holds in business. We don't build a business just to sell it or give it to our kids someday, we build it to support and challenge ourselves and others over the years.
Many, if not most, business owners run their businesses to support themselves on their journey through life, giving little thought for many years to how they will exit the business.
So what about shorter-term goals, such as annual targets? How important are these, relative to the strategies we put in place in our annual plans?
My answer is that the strategies themselves are much more important than the goals we set when developing them. Annual goals are like weather forecasts for next week ... usually wrong. The real value in setting annual goals is to think about where would be a good, attainable place to take our business through concerted effort over the next twelve months.
We don't need to be overly precise here, just enough to paint a future picture of our business that motivates us and our team to work toward getting there.
Then, we can focus attention on the journey itself. What do we need to do this week, this month, and this quarter to reach our destination? These are the things we actually do, that generate revenue, incur costs, and keep the engine of our company running.
Our journey is the succession of daily, weekly, and monthly operations and decisions, as we execute our business strategy and respond to our changing business world. We keep our destination in mind as we travel, adjusting the route as needed in response to emerging opportunities and challenges.
We probably even adjust the destination (our business goals) one or more times during the year. We can formalize this by periodically monitoring business success and re-assessing our strategy.
Still, our updated goals keep us focused on our changing best destination, helping to ensure that our journey is always in the right direction.
At year end we can look back on where we have traveled, seeing the adjustments in both route and destination throughout the year. When we take the time to look, we realize that where we are now and what we have achieved through the year is much more a result of our journey than of the initial destination we picked last year.
So what does this all mean? There are several implications:
- plans should be brief, concise, and flexible
- goals should be specific enough to guide action, but no more so
- strategies and goals should evolve throughout the year in response to changes in the business environment
- be skeptical if you feel yourself rationalizing a painful or awkward strategy to meet a goal.