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Focus the key

CREATING and reaching a clear-cut set of goals is a critical tool for anyone serious about starting or growing a business.

Good objectives help give direction and focus to a firm. They provide clarity and direction, allow managers to assess if their business is performing up to expectations, and give employees a better understanding of what the business requires from them.

Yet despite its obvious importance, many business managers and owners find effective goal setting quite a difficult task.

As a result, many executives are content to simply operate on a day-by-day basis, and the firms they run often lack any clear indicators about their ultimate objectives or targets.

Why is this so?

One of the biggest stumbling blocks can be the managers themselves. Many executives find it quite difficult to establish clear goals in their own mind.

Some have never quantified what they want to achieve, and so only have a vague notion of where they want to be and the results they ultimately want.

For others, it may be a fear of the consequences that can come from failing to meet their own targets.

There are also many passive managers, who find it easier and safer to ‘go with the flow’ rather than attempt to stand out from the crowd by trying to take control of their own business environment and career.

However, effective goal setting need not be a traumatic or difficult task. All it requires is the use of a few simple rules.

First of all, try to establish specific objectives. Avoid vague targets — they are next to useless since they are difficult to put into practice, hard to evaluate, and lack the clear direction which successful business planning requires.

Secondly, develop a realistic time plan for implementing plans. This might cover the short term (a week or a month), or consist of long-term ideas extending over a year or more.

Finally, make sure any goals are actually relevant and achievable. Setting impossible targets might be a useful motivational tool for one or two hyper-achievers, but for most people over-ambitious objectives are more discouraging than anything else.

Many people it find it easier to develop their goal-setting skills by first devising some simple, relatively modest targets.

Once these have been accomplished, they begin to find the confidence needed to move on to bigger and more difficult projects.

Evaluating achievements is also important. It’s worth taking some time at the end of each month, or every few months, to review progress to date. Sometimes you may find you’ll need to modify your goals in light of past performance and revised expectations.

Finally, don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t fully achieve what you set out to do. Business priorities alter, opportunities appear and vanish, and people and firms change. You may discover you’ve still achieved more than you would have without any objectives in place.

So whatever you do, start by making a commitment to actually have some goals. After all, it’s better to reach half a target, rather than none at all.

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