ACL Toolkit – Making Goals Clear

Have you ever experienced Drive-By Goal Setting? (It feels every bit as dangerous as a drive-by shooting) Your manager sticks his head in the doorway, talking fast. “I’ve got a hot one. I need you to look at this problem tonight and get me a solution by tomorrow afternoon. It’s just like the one we had on the last phase, so I’m sure you know how to handle it. If you have any questions, I should be around for a while today. Got it? Thanks!” The whole conversation lasted 90 seconds.

How often do you get assignments like this one?  Monthly?  Weekly?  More often?  If so, then join the crowd of people victimized by drive-by goal setting.

Unfortunately, the typical response is to yell out something like “sure, boss” as you grab the file in flight and reach for a pen to capture the few details you heard.  Maybe your boss heard your reply, or maybe he or she was already off to the next meeting or call.

Though it may be tempting to plow ahead, it can be dangerous, both for you and your boss.  Why does your boss see this problem as similar to the previous one, and are there any crucial differences?  What does a good solution look like – for your boss, for other stakeholders?  Is there any potential solution that is “must have” or “off limits” for your boss?

It may be a challenge, but you need to run your boss down – right then – and get the answers to a few critical questions.

  • What improvements do you expect to see as a result of this solution?
  • How quickly must these improvements occur?
  • Are there any resources – people, money, tools, etc. – that are “off limits” for our proposed solution?
  • Are there any people whose viewpoints must be included in the solution?
  • Do you have any specific ideas that must be included in the solution?

Sometimes, you will get resistance from your boss (no time, your opportunity to step up, don’t want to micromanage you, don’t you know how to handle this?), but you need to let those comments pass and get your answers.

Perhaps the most effective technique for managing resistance is to say something like…

“I know you’re (in a hurry, want me to handle it, whatever) but, I need to get a little information to make sure that I’m going to meet your expectations for a great solution.  Also, I think that, given how important this project is and how quickly we need a solution, the worst thing I could do is bring back a solution that doesn’t work, because I failed to ask a couple of key questions.


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