Clarify Goals & Objectives

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How to Clarify Goals and Objectives More Quickly

You already know that fuzzy and foggy goals are a huge source of work complexity - and failure. But do you know how to STOP TAKING ON WORK until you create clarity?

It's usually not the goals themselves that are unclear. What you're supposed to do with them is what's fuzzy -
how the goals refocus or change your work.

To figure that out, you need to ask the five questions of Behavioral Communication... (more on that below)

Bottom line: Do not take on work until you understand what the goals mean to you, and the kind of work you should be doing. That doesn't mean refusing work. It means pushing for clarity.

1. As soon as your boss sets a new goal for you, or tells you about a new corporate objective, ask:

Help me understand how this changes what I've been doing?

Most managers can only clarify goals from the company's or department's perspective. You need to understand
the relevance of this new goal - exactly how your job, your duties, your focus, your energies, and your use of time need to change.

For example: If you're a call-center manager, and the boss is rah-rah'ing your team about innovation goals, ask "How does the company's new focus on innovation change how I manage handle-time on customer calls?" If a company goal is relevant to your work, you have to understand how it affects how you do your job, and if you will be expected to change your focus.

1.1 If the answer you get still isn't clear to you, take the answer and ask "Why?" up to five times

2. Then ask:

Got suggestions for my first steps? What's the best way to get started?

This isn't about you waiting to be handed a checklist of mandated activities. You've got a head on your shoulders and you should be using it. Instead, this question is about probing for immediate next steps. "There are fourteen things that need to get done, which ones should I do first?" or "Could you help me break this goal down to what I should do this week?" You are like most everyone in this overworked, overloaded environment: You can figure out a lot on your own, but some guidance on where to focus your energies first will help jumpstart your efforts. So ask for your immediate next steps.

2.1 If you're still not clear on what you should do, ask "Why?" up to five times

3. Then ask:

What does success look like? ...What should I watch for to be sure I'm making progress, and am on target?

This question helps you understand how organizational success relates to you: "OK, we need to improve customer satisfaction by 10%. Could you help me understand what that looks like for me? How will I know that I'm being successful in moving us closer to that goal? Will you come tell me? Will I hear something different from customers? And how will I know if I screw up? I certainly want to prevent that! Can you tell me what to watch out for?" You need to know what your success looks like - not just the overall corporate measure of success - before you take on a job.

Ask your manager “What will I SEE that will indicate to me that I’m heading towards success” and “What will I HEAR?”. That will move the definition beyond management-speak and into something that you can observe all by yourself.

3.1 If that’s still not clear to you, repeatedly ask "Why?"

4. Then ask:

What tools and support are available?

This is all about execution - getting everything done. You may be thinking: "I'm working 29 hours a day, 10 days
a week, and you just put something more on my plate?!?! How the hell am I supposed to get all this done?"

While you may want to react that way, I wouldn't advise it. A more constructive approach (that will get you what you're after) is to focus on whatever enablers, tools, and support your company has in place to help you.
A partial list:


•        Project kick-off meeting


•        Communities of practice


•        Brainstorming session


•        Information templates


•        Training


•        Project sponsors


•        IT (Intranet, web-based tools, etc.)


•        Temporary teammates


•        One-on-one meetings with manager


•        Dedicated space/place


•        Mentoring


•        Research data

Frankly, you will never have enough tools and support. That's reality. But you must discover whatever is avail-
able before starting your work. Getting the right tools, at the right time, in the right way will help you get everything done.

4.1 Change-up:

Do NOT ask "Why?" when you discover how few tools and support are available, or if you discover there's no WIIFM. (See point 5, below)

The only possible answers will reflect poorly on your manager, or your company, or both. And prolonging the conversation will just frustrate you.


Here are the five questions of Behavioral Communication...

1. As soon as your boss sets a new goal for you, or tells you about a new corporate objective, ask:

Help me understand how this changes what I've been doing?

2. Then: Got suggestions for my first steps? What's the best way to get started?

3. Then: What does success look like?...

What should I watch for to be sure I'm making progress, and am on target?

4. Then: What tools and support are available?

5. Finally: WIIFM - What's in it for me? Or for us?

You know that this last question must be phrased properly, and with great care - right? Some approaches
include, "Help me understand how this helps me achieve my goals?" and "How does this help our team be more successful?"  

Push for clarity here. All human beings, including you, are motivated, in part, by self interest. It's OK to let that be part of your conversation. More than OK, it's required. Not all chores are rewarding nor do they meet our personal needs.

However, clarity doesn’t guarantee happiness. You may find that you don’t like or agree with the answers you get. As long as this only happens occasionally, shrug it off and move on. But if you find a pattern of unhappiness and disagreement, maybe you should be saying no more often, or voting with your feet. The only guarantee you get with clarity is that you’re accountable for acting upon whatever you’ve learned.

But asking the WIIFM question does help you identify PATTERNS. Are 5 out of 10 projects satisfying your long-
term needs? Not bad? Are 9 out of every 10 just drudgery? Then maybe you need to consider getting a new job. Asking WIIFM? helps you keep track of your own fulfillment every time you take on an assignment.

The biggest struggle people have is not how corporate goal will also enrich them, but how they’re going
to get everything done. So if you’re a manager, and you’re trying to help others, and you only have time to answer one question – make it tools and support. From there, everyone can figure out more of their own answers.


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