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May 11

New Year, New Goals

Posted by: Steve Marr

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Every year, millions of American businessmen and women make New Year's resolutions, often covering the very same issues they resolved to correct last year. Despite their best intentions, what is often lacking is a specific plan for how these resolutions can be accomplished. Are these goals even achievable? "For which one of you," Jesus asked, "when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost, to see if he has enough to complete it?" (Luke 14:28).


The only way that a business can solve its problems, achieve its objectives, and move itself to a higher level-rather than chasing its tail around the same old issues year after year-is to devise a plan and develop a process for accomplishing its goals. The answer is the same for any size business, from multinational conglomerate down to the humblest one-person operation. King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, wrote, "The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage, but everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty" (Proverbs 21:5). Effective planning and goal setting is required to achieve the maximum success possible. Many businesses stumble along without planning, but effective planning always improves results.

Start by objectively assessing where your business is today, and then determine where you would like to be by this time next year. Set realistic goals that match your expectations and will move your business up to the next level.

Effective goals are SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Accomplishment focused, Realistic, and Timed or Tied to the business.

Specific and Measurable go hand in hand: If you can't define your target, you'll never hit it. If the target can't be measured, it isn't specific enough. It's not enough to say that you want to increase sales, reduce customer-billing errors, or open a new store. General statements may sound good in January, but how will you measure your results in December? If sales increase by one percent, will you be happy? Examples of specific goals would be to increase sales by nine percent, reduce customer-billing errors from six per month to zero, and open a new store in a specific location by the end of June.

Accomplishment focused" means to build some stretch into your goals, without overreaching. For example, if the population of your town is growing by 15 percent per year, to increase your business by only 15 percent might actually be disappointing, since you would have only grown commensurate with the population. An accomplishment-focused goal would be to achieve a rate of growth higher than the increase in population. On the other hand, if your customer base is decreasing, due to a drop in population in your area, it might not be realistic to expect a 15 percent rate of growth, but a ten percent increase in sales might be great. Know your market and set your plans accordingly, but don't forget to stretch.

Goals, in order to be useful, must be realistic. The optimism you feel in January will give way to depression by the third week in March if your goals are clearly out of reach. Carefully evaluate each objective, and the resources required for achievement, then set your goals within the range of realistic. Reducing your billing errors to zero or increasing sales by 75 percent may just not be possible. Again, SMART goals will be a stretch, but achievable.

Additionally, your goals must be Tied to your business in order to be effective. Some goals sound nice, but if they're not tied to your overall business performance, they won't make a lick of difference. For example, adding a new line of soda pop in a convenience store wouldn't make much sense unless you can show how it will increase your overall sales and improve your profit margin. There's no point in changing merely for the sake of change. Smart goals will always be tied to the success of your business.

Timing is also essential to your success. Setting a goal to increase sales by 15 percent is all well and good, but it must be timed to fit the rhythms and cycles of your overall business strategy. Will sales be flat until December, then rocket through the holidays, or will they grow steadily throughout the year? Establishing reasonable expectations for timing helps you to allocate your resources wisely and become accountable for your results.

Once your goals have been established, you must formulate a strategy for accomplishing your objectives. A strategy is simply the method you will use to reach your goal. Effective strategies will include a clear and concise statement of the goal, a series of action steps required to achieve the goal, and a timeline that describes when each step must occur in order to achieve success.

Smart goals and effective strategies will always be written down. When Samuel the prophet was instructing the people, he "wrote them in the book..." (1 Samuel 10:25). If you want your plans to be effective, write them down. Once you have recorded your goals and plans, add due dates for each step in your action plan.. Allow sufficient time in your year-long schedule to accomplish each key task. Break down large projects into bite-size pieces. Small steps are more easily accomplished in the course of a week or a month, and the satisfaction that comes from "finishing something" builds momentum into the larger process and avoids discouragement.

The final piece of the planning puzzle is accountability. If you don't already have established reporting relationships, ask a fellow businessperson to hold you accountable for your progress toward achievement of your goals. If you work within an organization, share your plans and goals with your supervisor. Effective change comes when we plan, strategize, and then follow through to success. Asking and allowing someone to hold you accountable for results is an exercise in humility, but in the end it's a profitable strategy.

As you approach the new year, establish SMART goals, implement a strategy for achieving your objectives, and allow yourself to be held accountable. Then watch your business grow!

Steve Marr, Your Christian Business Coach

"New Year, New Goals" was a featured article in "What's Up" magazine-2000 issue.

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