Blog · Jul 11, 2014

Setting Business Goals: try our Goal Setting Exercise

Setting Business Goals

There’s an apocryphal story – which I’m sure you’ve heard a version of – about a visitor to the NASA Space Centre in the late 1960’s. On his way to see the latest Apollo space project, the visitor fell into conversation with a cleaner, sweeping the floor of a long corridor. “What do you do here?” asked the visitor. “I’m helping to put a man on the Moon” came the direct reply. It’s the stuff of dreams when it comes to setting business goals that cascade down throughout the organisation.

I’m still not sure if this story has any truth in it, but I do know that I’d like to run an organisation where all employees – no matter what they do – can link their contribution to its ambitious goals. Someone – probably that cleaner’s manager or supervisor – had done a wonderful job in connecting what we call the Crazy goal of the organisation to the daily activities of a person who keeps the house clean and tidy.

Setting goals – a focus for everyday actions

This NASA story illustrates that setting goals – whether in business, not for profit, sports or your home life – can be a strong focus of energy for your everyday actions. Who wouldn’t want to work in an organisation where all the individual contributors, teams and leaders had such clarity about the Crazy goal – and pushed themselves to learn and grow to achieve it?

The challenge for leaders of businesses or teams, however, is that having everyone clear about the business goal is fine. But by no means enough if you’re to realise the potential of an aligned, engaged and focused organisation. You’ll know this from your own experience. Being crystal clear about the wrong goal doesn’t make the boat go faster. Or being distinctly underwhelmed by your CEO’s cautious vision is a challenge you’ll have to get to grips with.

Business goals – your own Olympic Gold medal

At Will It Make The Boat Go Faster? we use a simple system  to set business goals that embraces the multiple, often competing tensions you always find in a fast paced and customer focused business. It’s a system forged by the most testing experience of Ben Hunt-Davis’s pursuit of an Olympic Gold medal.

As Ben is the first to admit, winning an Olympic Gold medal (in Sydney in 2000) is a relatively straightforward affair when compared to the complexities of many businesses. It’s a straight 2000m course, a well mapped out path to get to the final and 9 men all intently focused on one clear objective – that Gold. But intently focused on one clear objective they were.

In his book, Will It Make The Boat Go Faster? Ben outlines how he rowed in three World Championships and two Olympic Games – but ended up with next to nothing to show for it. And then in 1998, after a particularly disastrous result in the regatta at Cologne, the crew determined a new approach to their goal setting – and to their training, their attitude and their daily habits that had to flow from them. And from this emerged the layered approach of Crazy, Concrete and Everyday goals that sits at the heart of our goal setting system.

The Crazy Layer

Ben was quick to acknowledge the challenge of his ambition. “For me to win a gold at the Olympics was a crazy goal” – but equally quick to see that bold, extravagant goals fire our imagination and kindle our desire. Perhaps ‘significant’ works better for you than ‘crazy’, but whichever it is, your extravagant goal needs to marry a directness, a real clarity about your business ambition with an emotional attachment. How would you feel if you’d helped to put a man on the moon? Or working for one of our clients with a Crazy goal of ‘being recommended by everyone’? Or ‘making every customer a customer for life’?

A Crazy goal sits at the heart of a business. At the top layer. And above the multiple SMART goals you’ll quickly identify in your tightly run business.

What’s your Crazy goal? For you? For your team? For your business? My suspicion is that you’ll be able to point to many of the Concrete and Everyday goals – but scratch your head when asked to state the bold, extravagant Crazy goal that they support.


“Being really clear on what we wanted to achieve meant we could always figure out the way ahead by asking ‘will it make the boat go faster?’”

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