What Should I Care About?

This article on Goals and Goal Setting is the first in a 4-part series focusing on High Performance for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).

What should I care about?

You should care about goals.

Why should I have goals?

Because goals do more than guide a company to the future. Goals have a major effect on how the company operates day to day. Goals aren’t just for planning.

What kinds of goals are there?

There are three types of goals. Ultimate goals. Product goals. Process goals.

Ultimate goals are the big dream. Product goals are the component goals that make the big dream possible. Process goals are the things I have to do today to make the product goals a reality. Ultimate and product goals are output. Process goals are input.

How do I choose an ultimate goal?

Be ambitious, but don’t choose an impossible goal. Work backwards from the goal to the present to find out if your goal is possible. You must be able to fall in love with your ultimate goal.

How do I choose process goals?

Focus on process characteristics that motivate and create learning through measurability, feedback, and repeatability.

What are the characteristics of good process goals?

Small. Short. Simple. Slow. Great processes provide for learning by maximizing the value of the feedback loop, allowing repeated attempts, after action analysis, adjustment, and organizational learning.

What should I care about?

Alright, I’m running this business. Where’s the manual? What am I supposed to be doing here? What am I supposed to be spending my time thinking about? Where should I begin the business of managing this company? These questions, which are questions all entrepreneurs and SME managers have, though they may not seem like it at first glance, are all about goals and goal setting.

Yes, goals let us choose a target and systematically focus our resources on hitting it, but the facts of life for an SME is that the target is going to need to change – often. The ability to pivot and change direction rapidly is the key strength that defines an SME’s viability. But goals are still important because goals are important for the effects they have on us today, not for where ourbusiness will be in some amorphous future we can’t clearly see. How well our business does will depend not so much on what goals we choose, but on how well we mesh with them as a company, as professionals, and as individuals. All of this tells us that goals are less for the company than for the people who comprise it.

The Types of Goals

There are 3 types of goals business people should concern themselves with. Ultimate goals, product goals, and process goals. An ultimate goal is the big goal you are dreaming of someday reaching – the reason you are in business. It’s your dream. It might be characterized by a revenue number, a market share number, a headcount number, or by some other measure of ultimate success. Lifestyle goals, recognition goals, or skill goals may also count as ultimate goals. Product goals are the goals that contribute to achieving your ultimate goal. Product goals are often well-known in an industry or are easy to find out because they are usually suggested by the ultimate goal and are similar for most people. If your ultimate goal is to win a gold medal in Olympic basketball, product goals would include things like achieving specific shooting percentages, ball possession rates, or offensive rebound percentages. If your ultimate goal is to achieve 50% market share for your design services, product goals might be related to hiring known designers, capturing specific marquee clients, or lowering the internal cost of a design project. Process goals are the things that you have to do in order to generate the product goals you have determined are necessary to reach your ultimate goal. Process goals are often more difficult to determine and can be very unique to your own experience. For example, if your ultimate goal is to win Wimbledon, you can be sure that product goals will probably include high first serve percentages, and low numbers of unforced errors. However, you will likely be significantly less sure what you are going to have to do in order to get your first serve percentage up or lower the number of errors you make. This is why process goals are difficult and why you’re going to be spending most of your time on creating and executing process goals.

How should we go about choosing these goals?

Firstly, it makes no sense to choose any ultimate goal or product goal that is obviously unreachable. Having said that, short of breaking the laws of physics, there are few goals that are so obviously unreachable as to be off limits. We can know if an ultimate goal is unreachable if there are no product goals, that when achieved themselves, could reasonably be expected to yield the ultimate goal. Choose an ultimate goal and work backwards. If you can’t figure out how to get from your goal to where you are right now, if no achievable product goals will get you there, then it is probably unreachable.

Be here now

With an ultimate goal chosen, we’re ready to determine our product goals, and having done that go on to derive our process goals. Once we have product goals, we can analyze what components of our behavior, on a daily, weekly, or longer basis contribute to the achievement of those product goals. These findings become our process goals. Once we’ve identified the them, our days should be spent single mindedly absorbed in focusing on them. All of our time, energy, and mindfulness should be spent in the here and now, focused on practicing the things that we are in control of! If we can do that, the future will take care of itself!

Baby steps

Choosing our process goals well is the most important step in goal setting because therein lie the real motivators and demotivators. Our processes have to become mechanisms for ensuring that we,and all our people, are engaged in battle each and every day, with a full head of steam, slugging away, fully in the moment, because that’s what it takes to succeed. The desire to be good at the little things that make up our days (the components of our products or services output) is what ultimately determines how we’ll do as a company. If we can’t keep the passion to improve alive, we’ll fail to be excellent, and failure to be excellent will ensure failure as an enterprise.

Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect Practice makes perfect.

So how do we choose our process goals to ensure that we’re motivated, and not demotivated? How do we ensure that our people are going to stay passionate about improving the right things, in the moment, not worrying about the future? The right processes all have the same basic qualities. These qualities are motivating. They allow a practitioner to become absorbed in the process of learning to be better each time the process is practiced. They are repeatable, they are perfectible, they give clear and rapid feedback, they yield measurable data, and they have a direct causal relationship with our product goals. Good processes turn ordinary people into compulsive learners, which leads to good things for the organization, because the will to train to win is more important than the will to win.

Good processes are simple

To make a process simple, it must be the most fundamental component of a product goal, so that it can be executed, trained, and practiced easily. A process must be defined simply and then measured as defined. Bodybuilders do this well, breaking down muscle building process goals into exercises, sets, and reps, which can be measured easily and compared against each time they exercise. Bodybuilders can build a great body without knowing much about anatomy, biology, or nutrition, if they just follow the simple process steps. Comparing their performance each day with the previous day’s performance gives them quick feedback and is motivating.

Good processes are small

And they pile up to make great strides over time. If people are faced with a task that is too large, there are too many reasons to do it wrong or not do it at all. Where to start? What direction do we go? Can’t we delay? What if we fail? Furthermore, if it seems to touch many different interests in the organization, it looks like a gargantuan non-starter. For example, in major account sales, even great sales people expect to hear “no” more than “yes.” To get by this mental hurdle, they don’t think about success or failure, but about churning through small processes each day – number of calls, CRM management, lead generation, follow up, etc. Plowing through the same small things each day allows high performers to “meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just the same.”

Good processes are short – they come to an end fairly rapidly

In a perfect world, they come to an end extremely rapidly. Think of learning to putt. The process is very short – just make a stroke. Analyze what you did right or wrong. Make another stroke. The design of sports and games are often great examples of designing short processes. Game players of all types are some of the most absorbed people on earth at their process tasks. This is due to game designers specifically designing the game for learning. To design an absorbing game, skills must meet challenges, and feedback must come almost instantly. Video gamers never move their eyes from the screen for hours because they are getting constant feedback about performance. They are learning. They are adjusting. As their skills increase, they are trying something more difficult. They are getting feedback again, adjusting again and the loop keeps going around. The longer a process takes to give feedback the less motivating it is, and the less repeatable it is. Processes like losing weight can be so difficult because the scale doesn’t move fast enough. Design your process goals for faster feedback so you can fire and adjust more often. Think Ready, Fire, Aim!

Good processes should be slow

This may seem to contradict what was said just a few lines earlier, but actually it doesn’t. If processes are small, simple, and short, they are already going to be fast. So now we can take our time in doing them. By taking our time we ensure that we are fully concentrating on improvement. We are self observing and being in the moment. No need to rush to get things done. Rushing through the process doesn’t get us any closer to any finish line, because the finish line is irrelevant – if we didn’t do things right we’re going to have to do them again. The goal is not to be done, the goal is to be excellent, and excellence is a race that never ends.

The nature of the drive for perfection is that we’re always in the middle of the graph

Yes, we’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go – and always will. We know that, and we’re okay with it. If we’re in the middle of the process, absorbed, learning, concentrating on excellent execution, we’re where we want to be. We’re going to be happy, motivated, and producing great results.


Rodney J. Johnson is President of Erudite Risk and Co-Founder of the KBLA. He has lived in Asia for most of his adult life, but still longs for good Mexican food.

Steve McKinney is the President of McKinney Consulting an Executive Search and Leadership Consulting firm based in Seoul, Korea,  a Certified Master Coach and Co-Founder of the KBLA.