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Time to Focus on the How

The rubber hits the road at how and it’s the part of achieving goals that need nearly all your attention and energy.

“The rubber hits the road at how and it’s the part of achieving goals that need nearly all your attention and energy.”

I recently wrote about setting goals, here. It was packed with all the W’s — who, what, where, when, and even a little why, but it never breached the how. You’ve got this shiny new goal, it’s perfect in every way, but what’s next? Action, the process, the HOW! The rubber hits the road at how and it’s the part of achieving goals that need nearly all your attention and energy.

How are you going to achieve your goal?  That’s not a question I or anyone other than you can answer.  But what I can prescribe is to focus on developing a good process towards achieving your goal. The goal will give you the direction you need to aim at, but the process, or system, will get you moving.

Develop Your Process.

Create a methodology that you believe will get you closer to your goal.  Do not worry about getting it perfect (that’s later). It can be as simple or as complex as necessary, but it should be action steps, not flowery ideals.

Feed Me Some Feedback.

This is the refining process. If you have developed a SMART goal, you should have a measurability aspect to your goal. Develop a feedback loop that takes into account metrics in and around your process. Using this feedback tweak your process. Make adjustments and re-measure. Keep looking for the incremental gains. If you stay committed and focused on improving the process, each positive tweak gets you closer and closer to your goal.

The Outside Forces at Play.

In every aspect of our lives outside forces play a role in shaping how things play out. Often the outcome or results we achieve can be attributed to things completely out of our control. An extremely simple business example. My sales team misses their annual sales goals by 15%. On face value, it is a disappointment. Here’s a detail I left out — our main supplier’s warehouse burned down to the ground in early November and we had no inventory coverage for the final two months of the year. Okay, so any common sense person can understand you can’t sell what you don’t have. If we stay process focused, when feedback come times, we start to tweak. We can decide to keep a larger stock on hand, or find a backup supplier, or diversify our product lineup, etc.

Marginal Gains vs World Domination in One Fell Swoop.

Keeping a process first attitude can feel like you are slowing down, but in reality, you are just moving your focus from short-term outcomes to long-term success. Sure, making major changes to your process could have a significant impact on your immediate results. If you are keeping your process in the forefront, major changes may start coming far and few between.  Instead, you are going to start looking to aggregate marginal gains. One small gain here, another small gain there, and another; they start to add up, and before you know it, you’ve made further advancement towards your goal, without massive earth-moving changes. World domination in one fell swoop sure sounds like fun, and if you are results driven, and lucky enough to make the right move at the right time, you could very well have the world on a string on your finger. But it is a fool’s errand – I’d rather leave timing moves based on some outside force for the speculators. Those are the people betting when oil prices will drop, or when the Yen will inflate, or when it will start raining in Southern California. In my mind, it is more akin to gambling, and something I’m not prepared to do with anything that matters.

Control What You Can.

The crux of process-driven thinking is that most things are out of your control and therefore you should focus on the things in your control. Hitting or missing your sales target may not be wholly in your control, but your marketing strategy, how you treat your customers, or how many customer visits you do are all up to you.

An Analogy.

Sports analogies come easily to me, so here’s one to encapsulate the above thinking. The New York Red Bulls, an American soccer team that competes in Major League Soccer, likely has the goal to win MLS Cup each and every year. A simple goal shared by the other 21 MLS clubs. To achieve their goal they deploy and constantly refine a series of processes (or at least I speculate as a long standing fan). They might catch lightning in a bottle, and all the pieces serendipitously fall into place culminating in a cinderella story finish.  Or more likely, they are refining as many of the controllable factors as possible.

They cannot control with full authority if they will win the MLS Cup every year, but they can control who and how they draft players, how they practice, what formation they will play, how they develop their youth players, how they prepare each week for their opponents, how they prepare for long road trips, how they condition the players, what they feed their players, which players to cut from the team, which coaches and players to extend contracts to, and so on (what a run on sentence!).

Each one of those processes can provide marginal gains towards achieving the ultimate goal of winning the cup. And each process can be evaluated and improved upon, but mind you, a referee can make a bad call, leading to a crucial red card or a penalty kick in the playoffs, and it’s all gone. And the cycle starts again.

Set those SMART goals, and then get to refining the processes.

-Dan