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Reflections on Management: A Goal Is Something You Want to Achieve

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Simply put, without a goal, you cannot succeed and, if you cannot succeed, why try? This excerpt covers the purpose of goals.
From the book

4.3 A Goal Is Something You Want to Achieve

The dictionary defines a goal as "the result or achievement toward which effort is directed."2 Goals concern results and efforts, but most importantly they concern direction. Goals provide direction and focus for our efforts. They clearly define the end that we desire and establish a priority for the required work.

Goals also imply several other things. For example, you need to know whether you have achieved the desired result and where you are along the way. Are you winning or losing and are your efforts likely to be successful? All of these—the result, direction, measurement, and effort—are involved in setting and achieving goals.

Goals are useful for individuals. Few would argue that, without a goal, it is impossible to strive. Without some objective, all the effort seems pointless and a waste of time. After all, if the effort doesn't get you anywhere, why bother? Thus, a goal concerns a destination, and this destination must be some place or some state that you really would like to achieve. This could be losing weight, getting a higher score, or delivering a product, but the goal provides a concrete objective toward which to strive.

Another way to think about goals is in the negative. A key reason given when the presumed better competitor loses in boxing, track, or any other sports competition is that he or she did not want to win badly enough. Similarly, in building products, it is widely accepted that when people don't strive to build quality products, they generally won't. In fact, they really cannot. Challenging goals are not achieved by mistake. If you don't consciously strive for them, you almost certainly will not achieve them.

So, goals are not just an invention of management, they actually satisfy a fundamental human need. The goal defines our purpose: why we are here, why we are working, or what we intend to achieve. Simply put, without a goal, you cannot succeed and, if you cannot succeed, why try? Goals are the motivators for human endeavor. They energize our lives and our work. They give us purpose. Achieving a goal provides a sense of achievement and satisfaction. Goals are important to people and they are even more important for teams.

Teams need goals for all of the same reasons that individuals do. In addition, goals provide a common working framework for the team. The goal is something that everyone agrees on and can cooperatively work to achieve. The goal helps to resolve issues. Does this activity move the team toward the goal or would something else be more effective? If some action does not help to achieve the goal, why bother doing it? After achieving a goal, the team members have something to celebrate. It was hard work, but they brought it off. It was a team achievement and everyone shares in the celebration and in the credit.

Without a common goal on which all members agree, you have a loose collection of individuals who share only a common trait or facility; you cannot have a team. It would be hard to imagine an athletic team where the members did not all share a common goal, agree on precisely what that goal was, and know exactly what the score was at every point in the play. In addition, precise and timely feedback on goal status is an essential prerequisite for high-performance teams.

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