Why Setting Big Goals for Small Business Is Flat Out Dangerous


Why Setting Big Goals for Small Business Is Flat Out Dangerous

Texting and driving: Everyone knows it has the potential to be fatal. Everyone knows that splitting your focus between operating a moving, several tonne mass of metal and replying to that Facebook post, email or SMS affects our abilities the same as if we were drunk yet… just about everyone texts and drives.

I used to – until I realised just how stupid I was being. Now I either pull over or I use voice commands – and even with them I know my concentration is not what it should be. Rather than try to do too many things at once I now pay attention to fewer and get better results.

Goal setting is just as dangerous to your business when you set big goals.

Jack Welch of GE fame coined the term BHAG – Big Hairy Audacious Goal – and used a series of these to turn around and drive his business and executive team. But he had a set of circumstances most of us do not – a multi-million dollar business, staffed by some of the fiercest executive warriors in corporate America and the resources to throw at each and every BHAG in a fashion that allowed for dynamic change.

For years I followed the herd and set big scary goals for the businesses I was running at the time or even early on with clients. I drank the Guru Kool Aid and did my clients and myself a disservice.

Setting big goals had several effects on Small Businesses:

  • • They took the business focus off today and onto a long term future.
  • • They initially created momentum and then frustration as things did not happen quickly enough.
  • • They saw attempts at implementing far reaching dynamic changes rather sustainable incremental ones.
  • • They had a detrimental effect on the day to day operations.
  • • They locked in thinking and approaches resulting in a less nimble organisation.

In short setting big goals kept Small Businesses spinning their wheels and endangered their future.

As Entrepreneurs and Small Business owners, we do not have the luxury of long lead times for results, an abundance of resources or a team of executive warriors to do battle for us.

Often it is just us or us and a small team who need to get results in the short to medium term.

By trying to achieve a BHAG- style goal and run a business at the same time is like you texting and driving at the same time. Done improperly they are a distraction to your business, its longevity and long term future.

But you don’t have to risk life and limb by following the conventional wisdom that says having a big goal (or worse big goals) is necessary to be successful – instead you need to apply what I call ‘Umbrella Thinking.’

An umbrella shelters everything under it from the elements. Not always perfectly but it always provides a degree of shelter and protection. This is how to think of your long term goals – as the umbrella under which the rest of your business shelters.

But an Umbrella is useless unless it is held in a way to ensure the shelter it provides is maximised by altering to face the prevailing weather conditions. And this is where a Small Business has the advantage – we can adjust more agilely to changes in our market than the large players.

So if the big goal is the Umbrella that will shelter your business then you need to ensure you can face the umbrella in the direction that it is needed.

Being locked into a big goal or trying to implement dynamic change can and often does derail Small Businesses. The best way to do this is to work back from your big goal by setting incremental steps along the way to achieve it.

Don’t Text and Drive – focus on the most immediate small step, small change that can be done now to move you closer to achieving the Umbrella goal whilst enabling you to reposition the big goal as needed. Each change achieved will have a compounding effect that leads in a more secure fashion to the same outcome.

I’ve learned that following the herd is often wrong.

Don’t Text and Drive – and you will still get to where you are going. Just more safely

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Showing 3 comments
  • Desley Cowley

    Great advice Geoff. Thank you.

  • Bronwyn

    I love this post Geoff. Your analogy of being able to manipulate your umbrella to take account of the prevailing conditions is perfect, and small business is so much better at doing this than our bigger competitors. Being told to set BHAG’s is quite useless without the knowledge of how to get there.

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