Goals have a property we can call immediacy. An immediate goal is directly connected to whatever you're doing right now. For instance, right now I'm typing this with the goal of finishing the article you're reading. By contrast, less immediate goals are less directly connected to what you're doing right now. For me, right now, a less immediate goal is to help project teams work more effectively. I'm typing this, in part, because I hope that people reading it might gain some insights that they can apply.
A goal's immediacy determines the effectiveness of any particular goal achievement strategy. To achieve a less immediate goal, focus on it. Contemplate it. Imagine it. Imagine achieving it. Imagine having achieved it. When you do, you wake up your passion, and you unconsciously do what's necessary to achieve that goal. [Note 1]
Imagining success is far less effective for immediate goals. If I want an ice cream cone from the store across the street, imagining it probably won't make it happen. To achieve immediate goals, focus on what you have to do, and then you'll take action.
For a less immediate goal, focus on the goal, and the doing will take care of itself. For a more immediate goal, focus on the doing, and the goal will take care of itself. It's when we get the two confused that we get into trouble.
To help people and organizations achieve goals, use these same principles. As a manager or leader, you're responsible for your own personal goals, but you also take some responsibility for organizational goals and for goals of subordinates.
When the goal is immediate, do what you can to help people focus on what they need to do to achieve the goal. When the goal is less immediate, do what you can to help them visualize achieving it.
It's when we get
passion and action
confused that we get
into troubleFor instance, a near-term project milestone is an immediate goal. Although focusing the attention of the team on the milestone might be helpful, still more helpful would be a focus on this week's work, because that's what people must do to achieve the goal.
On the other hand, since goals related to, say, business development tend to be less immediate, a more vision-oriented approach is likely to be more effective for them. Focusing a team's energies on what life will be like when we complete this set of projects could provide people with the guidance they need to set their own priorities consistent with that less immediate goal.
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For more on achieving and inspiring goals, see "Corrales Mentales," Point Lookout for July 4, 2001; "Commitment Makes It Easier," Point Lookout for October 16, 2002; "Beyond WIIFM," Point Lookout for August 13, 2003; "Your Wishing Wand," Point Lookout for October 8, 2003; "Give It Your All," Point Lookout for May 19, 2004; "Knowing Where You're Going," Point Lookout for April 20, 2005; "Workplace Myths: Motivating People," Point Lookout for July 19, 2006; and "Astonishing Successes," Point Lookout for January 31, 2007.
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Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 5: Downscoping Under Pressure: I
- When projects overrun their budgets and/or schedules, we sometimes "downscope" to save time and money. The tactic can succeed — and fail. Three common anti-patterns involve politics, the sunk cost effect, and cognitive biases that distort estimates. Available here and by RSS on October 5.
- And on October 12: Downscoping Under Pressure: II
- We sometimes "downscope" projects to bring them back on budget and schedule when they're headed for overruns. Downscoping doesn't always work. Cognitive biases like the sunk cost effect and confirmation bias can distort decisions about how to downscope. Available here and by RSS on October 12.
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