Monday 10 April 2023

Think twice before setting objectives

I’ve worked with some exceptional business coaches: people who are committed to helping others achieve more. I've learned new ideas, and become more effective in the way I work. But, there's one area of coaching that I'm far from convinced about - and that's objective setting. 

Coaches often encourage the person being coached to set objectives - ideally to be accomplished by the next session. You decide on what’s most important, and then commit to one or more tasks. It’s a worthy idea, but one that can go wrong unless handled with care. 

Don't misunderstand - concrete objectives are the life-blood of getting important stuff done. BUT - and that was a big but - it has to be done properly.

Here's my take on problems to avoid: 

1. Don't set objectives too quickly. Coaching sessions are often an hour in duration, which is mostly not long enough to devise meaningful objectives. What might sound like a good goal, can have problems that further thought would uncover. Such as finding data to support the objective, considering how the objective could be “gamed”, or thinking through the full implications of achieving it. Business books are scattered with examples of worthy objectives that have unfortunate consequences. Taking the time to consider what you are really trying to achieve, and what objective would best move you forward, isn’t time wasted. It’s time that’s needed to set good objectives. 

2. Don't forget to consult with colleagues. Coaching sessions are often one-to-one, so the whole issue of consultation often doesn’t get dealt with as thoroughly as it should be. And let’s face it, consulting can be a nuisance. It slows things down, and other people have different ideas, and differences of opinion aren't always resolved quickly. But consultation is vital in setting good business objectives - no matter how long it takes. 

3. Don't inadvertently set useless objectives. This busy work seems important, but actually has no value. The low hanging fruit is often easy, and quick to identify. But it doesn’t always move things forward. Too often it results in a warm glow of satisfaction and little in the way of real-world change. Tough, stretching objectives that change the world are more likely to emerge from the fire of heated debate, a bit of mind-changing, and enough thinking time to get them right. 

4. It's no use unless you can measure it. Sometimes the measure is obvious, but not always, And sometimes figuring out the right measure goes to the heart of the objective. And sometimes measuring the objective is a project in itself, which can also be awkward when everyone is keen just to get to the results. But unless the measure is clear, you are not going to know how to improve and how to hit the target. Unless you count that warm glow as a measure. 

Figuring out the important things, rather than the easy things, is hard work. It often takes research, deep thought, and lots of discussion with people who are not afraid to challenge your thinking. But having great (not just good )objectives makes a massive difference to a team’s effectiveness. It just has to be done carefully.

What do you think? Have you worked with a great business coach who has helped you devise great goals? Are you a coach who struggles with figuring out the right goals for the businesses you work with? What's your top tip for creating great objectives that really make a difference?

Leave a comment and let me know!