I’m sure at some point in your career (in business or otherwise); someone has pushed the benefit of having a long term goal/plan/vision, whatever you want to call it. In case someone hasn’t I’m going to do that in this article, and then I’m going to talk about some of the dangers you should be aware of and traps that you could potentially fall into when setting a long term vision.
I don’t know where I heard this, and I don’t even know if it’s true, but I heard somewhere that if you write down a goal you’re 1,000% more likely to achieve it. Now if that exact statistic isn’t true then another very similar one probably is. When you write down your short term goals, which you should do, you should do so with a longer term vision in mind. I think the best way to do this is to just imagine yourself ten or twenty years in the future, and really imagine what you want your life to be like, go into as much detail as possible. Write this description down after your goals list; preferably write at least half a page.
Now you have a long term vision, obviously the more effort you put into my previous suggestions the clearer and more defined this vision is likely to be in your head, and therefore the more use it is likely to be for you. What you should now do is go back over your goals list and ask the question for each goal: ‘Would achieving this goal move me towards or away from my long term vision?’ The answer will always be one or the other, because if you’re not moving towards your long term vision then you’re moving away from it. For any goals which move you away from your long term vision, unless there is some other reason why you absolutely must still have that goal on your list, you should remove it.
You shouldn’t just do this with your goals; every action in your business moves you towards or away from your vision, so you should always bear this in mind when making a decision. When you actually stop and think about the effect on your long term vision before making decisions in your business, you’ll start to realise that a lot of the things you’re doing every day really aren’t helping you get to where you want to get to. This will also make you realise a lot of things that you are doing inefficiently, and how you can do things in a way which will be better for achieving your long term vision, or how you can group certain things you do together, or where you’re putting too much focus, the list goes on.
Not only will this help you achieve your vision, but you’ll also feel better when making decisions. You will feel a lot more in control and confident about your future and your decision making ability, because you have your long term vision in mind, so you are much clearer about why you are deciding how you are. You will also beat yourself up less about wrong decisions which you may make, because you have a much clearer idea in exactly why you did what you did and you will be much more confident you made the best possible decision based on the knowledge you had available at that time. In short, having a long term vision is not just better for the well being of your business, but also for your own mental well being.
A long term vision can also massively help the culture in your business, and how your employees make decisions. If you explain clearly to everyone where exactly you want to get to, and show them your long term vision, they can get on board, and start making their decisions based on whether or not they will help achieve the firm’s long term vision, and any staff that don’t get on board clearly aren’t the right fit for you, so it’s better that you find out now. You can also use this to help take on new staff, as you can find out before you even hire them if they really ‘get’ what it is you’re trying to achieve with your company. Having a clearly defined, well known long term vision can improve not just your own decision making, but the decision making of everyone in your organisation.
In short, it’s great for everyone having a long term vision, if done properly. But there are a few things you need to be careful of too:
- Make sure it’s defined correctly
This may sound simple, and it is, but it’s worth saying anyway. If you don’t define your vision correctly, then you and anyone else who you bring on board will be working towards the wrong vision, and you really do not want that.
- Don’t neglect short term necessities in favour of your long term goal
This is very important, if you neglect things that need doing in the short term in favour of achieving your long term goal then you won’t be around in the long term to achieve that goal. Some things just need doing, as I’m sure you’re already aware, and fooling yourself into doing something else because it helps you achieve your long term goal better really won’t benefit you.
Short term survival is a greater priority than a long term goal. Now, this a double edged sword, because you also can’t be fooling yourself into thinking something needs to be done when really it doesn’t, or you’ll constantly be playing busy and never actually moving forward in the long term. You have to use your own judgement with this but be very aware that you are being honest and not fooling yourself either way.
- Do not keep moving the goalpost
If you want to achieve something by a certain point, and that point is approaching, don’t just push it back. For example, say you have a medium term goal, and you’re quite busy, don’t neglect this medium term goal by fooling yourself into thinking ‘well, if I do this instead and don’t achieve this goal then it’s better for my long term goal’. Not achieving your other goals is terrible for your long term goal, because if you don’t take your short and medium term goals seriously then how will you take a long term goals seriously, given they require far more discipline and determination.
You can’t make the mistake of allowing your long term goal to become an excuse for pushing everything else back, because that will inevitably end up in your long term goal being pushed back too. It should be very rare that you ever have to push a goal back; you should only do so if an absolute indisputable emergency comes up. But otherwise, you shouldn’t be setting goals that you can’t realistically achieve because they won’t help to keep you or your staff motivated. Another way in which a long term vision can move the goal post is if you make it more long term than it really needs to be. If you set a ten year goal that really should take five, you’ve just pushed your goalpost back five whole years.
Even if you finish it in seven and feel great you’re two years behind. You need to be very aware that psychologically, the time you give yourself to achieve your goals will have a huge impact on how long it takes you to achieve them. For example, if I set myself a week to do something that should take a day, then even though I may finish quicker than a week because I’ve given myself too long, the chances are that if I work hard on that goal, then I’ll spend lots of time on things which are really insignificant. There will be diminishing returns for me doing this, so I might spend four times as much time as I would have spent, only to make something twice as good as beneficial.
I’m not sure how good that example actually is, but hopefully you get what I’m trying to say. If you give yourself too long to achieve something, you may achieve it ‘better’ but it probably won’t be worth the time it takes to do so. Again, this requires your judgement, although for a long term goal it may be worth discussing it with key members of staff, so you set realistic but still difficult targets, the last thing you want to end up doing is moving the goalposts.
If you find yourself setting a long term goal that seems to be moving along at a nice pace without much effort, and spending lots of time on perfecting tiny and insignificant things, the likelihood is that you’ve accidentally moved your goalpost back. If you find yourself rushing frantically to achieve a goal and the expense of short term necessities and maybe even medium term goals too, the likelihood is you’ve accidentally moved your goalpost forward too much.
In conclusion, when used properly, goals are awesome, when used improperly, goals are lethal. To make sure your goals are awesome avoid:
- Defining your goal incorrectly
- Neglecting short term necessities
- Moving your goalposts
Avoid these things and setting goals can become one of the most powerful tools you have for achieving success in your business and your personal life. Good luck, and be sure to drop a comment letting us know how you got on, and some of the long term goals you’ve set. Also if you’ve enjoyed reading this article, or know someone who you think might benefit from reading it, then feel free to share it.