If you weighed 150kg and set yourself a goal to lose 20kg in a year, would it be considered a failure if you only lost 19kg? How would your response change if the reason for losing 20kgs was to fit a suit for your wedding day?
If you needed to lose weight for a wedding, which is a one-off, time-bound event, then missing the goal is a big deal. In this case, your suit wouldn’t fit, and you would need to make other arrangements. Yet, if the reason for losing the weight was to become healthier and live longer, which is a broader, more holistic objective, then missing the exact ‘20kg in twelve months’ target becomes less important. In this case, you would be fitter and healthier for having lost 19 kgs, which is a net positive outcome.
We don’t often think about time in this context when we review our goals. Whether we achieve our goals or not, we tend to get caught up in the binary choice of “did we hit or did we miss?”. Anything outside of the certainty of 0 or 1 starts to sound like excuse making, especially in cases where our goals haven’t been met.
It’s easy for this thinking to creep into teams, especially in high-pressure environments, like those found in start-ups and amongst high performing people. The issue with this thinking, however, is that nothing is ever that black or white.
We time bind our goals to constrain them and ensure they are respected and adhered to. We also leverage time to bring focus to our short-term goals, which allows us to build momentum towards our holistic, long term, but less time-sensitive, objectives and missions.
Well run organisations all understand this and use it to their advantage. They set larger missions for the company that are less constrained by time and put these at the core of their business. They then use short term, time-bound goals to contribute individual and team efforts towards mission success.
Google is a great example. Their mission is “to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.” It’s a powerful mission because it remains relevant as time tends towards infinity. Google then uses the Objective Key Result (OKR) goal-setting system, a system they pioneered for this exact reason, as their way of setting and achieving time-bound goals to achieve this mission.
The OKR system has been a huge reason for their decades of strong and innovative growth, as, without it, their mission to organise the world's information would have quickly become irrelevant years ago.
The key is to find the balance that is right for you and your organisation. There is no use in having grand missions for the future if you don’t have a way to set and achieve short term goals. Nor is it useful to focus solely on only setting and achieving short term goals without knowing why they are important and what context they play in a more long-term vision.
So, when is it okay to miss your goals? The answer is that it depends on its relationship to time and your objectives. Google will never set a time limit on when they will have completely organised the world’s information, but they will always strictly hold their employees to the time-bound initiatives that build towards their never-ending mission. Losing 19kg is almost always cause for celebration but it’s also not ok to be too big for your suit on your wedding day, no matter how much weight you’ve lost! The context of time is important.
About the author - Aidan Kenealy - Founder - Hole In One Ventures