Many years ago I was at an orienteering-camp and we did an exercise one morning that was more difficult than I had anticipated, and which was quite thought-provoking. From the starting point on a hill in the middle of the forest we identified a bearing on a map to a specific point approximately a kilometer ahead. Between our current location and the intended ending-point, the vegetation was thick and the terrain quite hilly. We were then asked to hand in our maps and compasses. Turned out that the task was to get to the destination empty-handed, and whoever got closest to it won.
A small deviation from the course now will have consequences later
This might sound simple, but when the road ahead of me was full of obstacles to get around, over and even under, which for a moment made me deviate ever so slightly from the course I had set, it was easy to lose sense of where I believed the destination point to be located. In order to keep myself moving in the right direction, I took aim at a tree some 50 meters ahead of me, then a rock beyond that, then a funny twisted branch that I couldn’t miss, and so on.
A step at a time towards your destination
This to me is a direct and rather accurate analogy of how our businesses function. We know (well, hopefully we do) where we are heading in the long-run and in order to move in that general direction, we take aim at smaller goals and accomplishments, one after another. If we take steps that lead in other directions we will simply find it harder to reach our intended destination. This is why the goals are what determine what the best and right thing to do from one moment to the next is — why we use our goals when prioritizing.
When everything is changing quickly
If the long-term goal (or ”vision”) remains the same over time it becomes easier to set the short-term goals than if the vision changes often. We then aim towards the same destination throughout the entire orienteering-exercise. But if our business is relatively young and if it is operating in a sector that constantly changes and develops, or perhaps is being created at this very moment, our long-term vision and goal will change often since the environment in which we are operating is shifting and we need to adapt to those changes. The point of destination shifts while we are moving towards it. The way we envisioned the future just a little while ago is no longer relevant, and something just happened that alters our whole perception of our business and our situation. It is difficult to get an overview of the road ahead, which in our orienteering analogy would be equivalent of a dense and impenetrable vegetation where it becomes difficult to take aim at a suitable tree some distance ahead.
One might even think that it is more or less impossible to set goals and determine a vision to base your priorities on in these young, changeable businesses, but it is possible — the goals just need to be smaller and defined more often. We need to determine what the right path to take right now is more frequently.
If we were to set a goal today, how far into the future do you think it would be relevant? Of course you cannot know with certainty, but if you were to make an estimated guess, based on how fast your business and sector is changing? Is it a quarter of a year? A month? Perhaps just a few weeks? Reflect for a minute on the time-horizon that is relevant for the goals you have set and base your priorities on. Is the time-span short enough or do the goals become irrelevant too soon and too often? Or do you seldom change your goal and might benefit from giving your goals a longer time-frame so that you do not have to reevaluate them so often?
If you need to set goals with shorter or longer time-frames, then do so, or bring it up with those that need to agree on the goals you set when you get a chance.
More relevant more of the time
If you adapt the time-horizon of your goals by your business and the environment or sector it is operating in, you will find them helpful for the full duration of the time it takes to reach the goal. You will take them seriously more of the time since they are relevant when they need to be. Instead of having goals just because ”you are supposed to”, they will truly aid you in your everyday work and you will realize the value of deliberately setting goals.
What is your way?
What is the ”duration” of the goals you have set for yourself and your business, and what was the reasoning behind defining these particular goals? Feel free to share your reasoning in a comment.