By Morey Stettner
There’s a dirty little secret about setting a goal: It’s subject to change. That’s especially true during a crisis.
You can set ambitious targets and motivate your team to believe they can hit them. But even with everyone’s buy-in, shocks beyond your control can intrude.
Many executives already threw out their long-term goals due to the coronavirus shutdown. The challenge is plotting a new direction in setting a goal amid so much uncertainty.
Should leaders even try to set a new goal in such a volatile environment? Or is it better to sit tight and wait for more clarity?
“This is a time when some goals have to be abandoned,” said Dan Markovitz, author of “The Conclusion Trap.” “You still need to have a directional goal for the next year,” but the path to get there may take significant detours.
Follow these steps to set new goals in a crisis:
Reassess Goals More Often
In an ideal world, you announce bold objectives along with a deadline to achieve them. Then you stick with them even if unexpected obstacles arise, demonstrating perseverance amid adversity. But the massive disruption caused by the pandemic requires new thinking.
“Now you want to increase your cadence for learning and evolution,” said Markovitz, a San Francisco-based management consultant. “Because there’s new information we’re learning every one or two weeks, reevaluate goals more frequently. Think in terms of here’s what we’re doing for the next two weeks instead of here’s what we’re doing for the next year.”
Pool Knowledge When Setting A Goal
Involve all team members in shared learning. Revise your goals based on everyone’s input and experience grappling with the coronavirus threat. Avoid walling yourself off from the workforce and making decisions in isolation.
“Engage your employees more in assessing the strategy and tweaking it as necessary,” Markovitz said. “They’ll have more ownership of the new goals if they’re participating in shaping them.”
Make Smaller Bets To Set A New Goal
Some leaders favor all-or-nothing targets. But wagering too much time, effort or intellectual capital on one lofty, all-encompassing target can backfire.
“It’s important now to consider how to mitigate risk by placing smaller bets,” Markovitz said. “Escape the tyranny of ‘either-or.’ Embrace ‘and-both’ thinking” where you set more flexible goals.
For example, establish sourcing goals that involve both foreign and domestic suppliers rather than putting too much emphasis on just one of them.
Think In Tiers
Confronting high uncertainty makes it harder to set targets so that they’re tough but attainable. So set different tiers to reflect different outcomes.
“Look at the worst-case scenario, the best-case scenario with a quick recovery and what might happen in between the two extremes,” said Dave Luter, a senior consultant at netlogx, a consulting firm in Indianapolis. “Then plan your goals within these three scenarios.”
Keep Adapting When Setting A Goal
Share your rationale for arriving at a particular goal. Educate employees and other stakeholders about the data you’re using, the assumptions you’re making and the expectations you’re setting. That way, you’re on safer ground if you attempt to modify your goals later.
“You have to update goals as guidance changes,” Luter said.
Stay In The Game
It’s tempting to suspend all objectives as you wait out a crisis. But standing on the sidelines and delaying key planning and decision-making poses risks as well.
“It’s a mistake not to set goals,” Luter said. “Everybody has to understand you have goals in place, even if you can’t control outcomes. You need to show all parties that you have confidence and a plan going forward. That will give them confidence.”
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