blog overview
Goal Setting
Hasse Jansen, 11 Nov '16

The Genius of Goal Transparency

Create goal transparency to fundamentally change the way you work. Building a network of strategic hypotheses breeds a culture of contribution and continuous improvement.

When you think about goal transparency, you may be tempted to think about that one Friday afternoon meeting per year where the CEO reveals the company mission for the next three years. Teams may get temporarily excited as they imagine their company’s postcard destination… but when it’s Monday morning, from where they’re standing nobody has any idea how they’ll ever be able reach that destination.

From temporary excitement to long-term success

Connecting the performance of a simple task to the achievement of the company mission is too much to ask even for the best of us. When you’re working within a complex organization in a volatile environment, nobody can be asked to accurately judge how the creation of that one deliverable will affect the bottom line.

To know how specific tasks altogether add up to the fulfillment of the company mission, you need a goal tree. And that goal tree will create the transparency you need to transform your organization profoundly.

Bold statement, I know. Let me explain.

A tree of goals as a value chain

To have a chance at achieving the big ambitious goal that your CEO so proudly announced, chances are that tens of smaller commercial goals need to be achieved first. Every goal feeds into another, creating a string of goals. The goal tree shows exactly how every goal relates and contributes to every other goal.

It flows from the bottom to the top, but you could look at it as a value chain tipped on its side. In the goal tree, input to the next goal is the output of the previous goal, just like the product of completing one (set of tasks) is input for the following (set of) tasks in a (manufacturing) value chain.

Boardview Tree

Fair enough, but how is this going to transform my company, you ask?

Alright everybody, put your hypotheses on the table

The goal tree is nothing more than a visualization of which commercial results are expected to be required for the achievement of higher goals. It depicts hypotheses of what is needed to take the company from the present to the desired future. Think of it as a provisional, dynamic value chain of goals.

It is all too easy to just not mention something when you’re not sure if it’s correct. That way you can be sure won’t lose… but you’ll never win either. To have a chance at success, the whole company needs to be frank about what they think the road to success looks like.

It doesn’t matter how ill informed people may be at any point. Depending on your level of confidence about whether you’ll be able to achieve goals, the goal tree can range from being merely a statement of intent to a detailed network of SLAs.

The value of the exercise lies in making doubt about the achievement of goals or their mutual dependencies explicit, as opposed to everyone keeping intentions and expectations for themselves for fear of losing face. The exercise opens the door for continuous improvement and evokes a revolution in company culture.

Where infinite improvement starts

When you first start out with ‘being frank about hypotheses’, get the team (or the entire company) together and start writing down goals. Then shuffle them around to playfully discover which goal feeds into another, deciding which is the parent and which is the child goal, to create a network.

At the end of the day, when you’ve finished building your first tree, is when the fun starts. This is not a one-time exercise. This is a starting point. It is the first version of something that will invite everyone to look for improvement wherever they can find it.

Doing away with hierarchy while keeping focus

In a traditional hierarchical organization, the only reason you do something is because that someone higher up tells you to. In a transparent goal driven organization you do something because you think it would add the most value; because spending effort ‘here’ would bring you closer to reaching the parent goal than it would if effort would be spent ‘anywhere else’.

Creating goal transparency is your best chance at doing away with hierarchy between the people in your company. But don’t think this will end up in all-out anarchy. People still have responsibilities and are always working towards a goal, but in a more dynamic, value driven way.

Everyone that is active in a goal tree probably has multiple roles: being accountable for the achievement of one or more goals, and being responsible for the completion of tasks to achieve various other goals, for which other people are held accountable.

You could say everyone can be a ‘manager’ one hour, and a ‘subordinate’ the next. But it is more like being a facilitator that oversees the achievement of a goal one hour, and a being a contributor to a goal the next.

The goal tree is a hierarchical structure of goals to indicate responsibility for goals, how the achievement of one goal helps achieve the next. The goal tree has nothing to do with hierarchy between people. Anyone can take the responsibility for achieving a certain goal.

Power to the… to those who add value

Whether individuals are the accountable goal owner or are ‘just’ contributors does not depend on their title, as it does in traditional organizations. Instead it depends on whether colleagues think you have the talent and experience to do it. As your competence and capability grow over time, the more confidence colleagues will have in you and the more freedom you’ll receive.

Individuals will also start to see more exciting opportunities beyond current grounds. Whoever sees a hole in the market first, or whoever sees an opportunity to improve something somewhere in the internal organization can lead the dance.

People have different talents, interests and levels of experience, and everyone should be allowed to utilize that freely. Goal transparency creates equality in opportunity, not necessarily in performance. Wherever someone sees a way to add value to the company is where they will drift. You’ll see people taking up the roles where they can add the most value, which boosts worker engagement and benefits the company’s bottom line.

Goal transparency invites initiative and a contribution mind-set

Having a goal tree available to everyone involved breeds a habit of thinking about why goals are pursued and whether their relation to other goals is likely to be correct. It should be the starting point of an ongoing strategic conversation between everyone. Are these the goals we should be pursuing? Do our newest insights indeed confirm that the causal relationships between goals are as predicted?

Everyone is free to proactively provide his views on how to best achieve a certain goal. The goal owner will still be responsible in the end, but he’ll have received input from different perspectives and will be able to make more informed decisions because of it.

Creating goal transparency encourages people to contribute value wherever they can. And as you might have guessed by now, I’m pretty thrilled about that.

Try it now.