As I write this, I’m on a plane flying from Austin, Texas, to Denver, Colorado. Do you think that the pilot would have taken off from the airport without any kind of flight plan? If you go on a cruise, does the captain drift without direction and hope that the ship makes it to the intended destination? Both of those questions seem ridiculous, don’t they? You’d never trust a pilot or a captain who would wander aimlessly. How can you get somewhere without a plan? Despite how obviously useless having no direction may seem, it’s something I see all of the time.


Before you read further, take this quick quiz by answering the following questions with a “yes” or “no.”

  • Do you have personal goals?
  • Are they in writing?
  • Do you have short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals?
  • Does your company have company goals for this year?
  • Are they in writing?
  • Does every employee know what they are?
  • Does the company have long-term goals?

How did you do?

Okay, now back to our regularly scheduled article. In the last few months, I’ve spoken to employees of several corporations across the country, doing keynotes and training sessions. When I conduct an exercise about short-, mid-, and long-term goals, I’m astounded. Why? Because 98% of the participants don’t have goals of any kind. How do I know? I ask them. They simply don’t have them and offer several interesting reasons why:

  • “I don’t have the time.”
  • “I’m just too busy.”
  • “I haven’t really thought about it.”
  • “It doesn’t seem that important.”

No Goals?

Is it the new generation of workers that doesn’t have goals? No, the people in these sessions range in age from 20 to 60. I am very concerned that people are operating their professional and personal lives without a real purpose or plan (written or otherwise). This is not conjecture. This is what they are telling me. So why do people operate their lives without the direction goals provide? The question is a compelling one I can’t answer. Even so, I’ve wondered if the same is true for companies. Surely the CEOs, CFOs, and executives in companies set goals, right?

A few months ago, I was facilitating an executive retreat during which I asked, “Do you have strategic goals and objectives for 2007?” After a few seconds of awkward silence, the CEO quietly answered, “Well, sort of.”

I said, “Either you do or you don’t.” Silence.

Do you have strategic goals and objectives for 2008?” I continued. More silence.

“Um, we should probably work on that,” muttered the CFO, raising an eyebrow.

“Do you have a long-term plan for the next three to five years?”

They all shifted uncomfortably in their seats. I already knew what the answer was going to be: “No.”

What’s Going On?

While many Fortune 500 companies have comprehensive and well-articulated plans, I’m finding many mid- to small-sized companies have no plans whatsoever. Why is this?

There may be several possible reasons including the following:

  • Their bias against goal setting in their personal lives spills over into their professional lives. Because they don’t have goals for personal development, they don’t have them for their company either.
  • They’re so focused on day-to-day operations that they only address momentary issues while ignoring the company’s future. This comes from myopic thinking about only today, next week, or this month. They are caught up in the ” what’s on fire syndrome” that is usually fueled by urgency.
  • They founded a business because they were good at something but never learned to plan strategically. They lack this critical skill to build the company’s long-term future.

Addressing the Issue

How can leaders without an actual plan lead companies with hundreds of employees who have faith in their leadership? It’s very disconcerting. If you are a leader, what can you do? Here are a few suggestions.

  • Start setting goals in your personal life. I believe leaders must model the behaviors they want to see in their employees. Show employees you are doing comprehensive goal setting in your own life and encourage them to do the same.
  • Encourage employees to set personal goals, and provide training if needed. If you offer training on this topic, you will reinforce for them how important it is.
  • Take the time to bring your team together to set company goals yearly. Make sure you meet with your executive team to set goals that are measurable and specific for the following year. Set them for revenue, cash flow, profit margins, etc. If you can’t do it on your own, bring in outside help. Yes, this option can be costly, but you can’t afford not to make this effort.
  • Communicate the goals and objectives to all employees on a consistent and regular basis. If they aren’t communicated, they won’t exist. Make sure to communicate frequently, give regular updates on the goals, and remind everyone of where you stand as a company. This will help employees follow your example as they make their own goals and assess their progress in reaching them.

No one can hit a target that isn’t in view or reach a goal that isn’t defined. Once you know yours and those of your organization, bulls-eye!