Strategic Goals: Asking the Big Qs

Goals have always been important to me, and along the way, I became a real believer in metrics-based work.  Setting a measurable, time-based goal is a clear way to break larger objectives into achievable pieces. It’s also a great solution for managing employees who work-from-home as well as a large stables of freelancers and authors. Break projects into manageable pieces, set clear deadlines, and measure them.

When I began working for myself, I began to use the same system. By breaking a large project into pieces (usually with revenue attached) I’m able to clearly measure my business path and motivate myself to complete the job. I’m able to look back and see if what feels like a slow quarter was really a slow quarter. And metrics are good for a pat-on-the-back when I see how much I accomplished.

However, not all of my work is so specifically measurable. Some of my goals involve getting particular kinds of projects or stretching my skills. Some involve stretching comfort zones or pushing myself to become better. Some are also things that are harder to break down. If the goal is “Achieve this thing this year,” the measurement is “did this thing happen this year: Yes/No.” Sometimes I struggle with those types of goals.

People miss goals all the time. I’ve always dealt with it by assessing the goal itself. Goal: Get fit this year. Metric: Walk 10 miles every week. Result: Walked 0 miles.  Assessment:  Lower goal to 5 miles. But, that’s not always the answer. As I set lofty professionals goals and missed them, I began to ask “WHY am I not interested in achieving this goal?” Why is it not important enough to me to change my behavior to achieve it. Ask the “why”. Reassess. Easy, right? Well, not really.

When it comes to driving life – or business — forward, just letting things go isn’t the answer. Goal for last year: “I said I wanted to get a book agent for the novel I wrote. Why did that not happen? Was it not important to me? Am I scared of pitching my novel?” The easy answer is “it’s not my core business, so it’s not important, don’t worry about it. Deal with it next year when you have time.” But that doesn’t seem right. And it doesn’t get my any closer to the goal. I began to wonder if I was asking the right questions.

I’ve run a lot of business strategy sessions in my career. I always encouraged people to leave their assumptions outside the room. To brainstorm, to blue sky. To step outside of the preconceived notions and dream. And, most importantly, to not get ahead of themselves and nix an idea because they couldn’t figure out how to actually accomplish it. And here I am, doing the exact thing I’ve worked against. What if I tackled missed goals with a judgement-free strategic approach, one that I recognize doesn’t have a clear path to making it happen. What if I started asking the right questions.

What if I started looking at my quarterly goals and asking The Big Qs?

What are Big Qs?  They’re still big questions, but these tackle head-on an issue that’s blocking something I want to achieve. They aren’t goal reassessments, but truly strategic questions, most of which don’t have an immediate answer. For example, this quarter, I tracked my quarterly revenues. I’m on target, but I’m not feeling like I’m getting to one of my longer-term cash flow goals. The question?  How to move from one revenue model to another? Is the answer retainers? Is it monthly clients?  It’s a question for me that doesn’t have — or need — an immediate answer but one that I’d like to think about as I move through the year and see if what I want to do is really viable.

Writing down The Qs is also a way to acknowledge big issues that may be coming up, but that you just don’t know how you’re going to handle them. At least two of my questions for this quarter were essentially writing down something I know is coming or I need to tackle with “How to navigate?” or “What does this look like?”

As I look at my year and continue my year of Insane Bravery, I’m learning new ways to tackle The Big Qs. The first step is start asking them so you can start looking for answers. What are some of your Big Qs?

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