Goal Tree chronicles – four hours to fill six boxes

This Goal Tree session started early afternoon with the company’s top chief officers. While I explained the Goal Tree principle I could notice the usual grins meaning “You’ll get your tree filled in ten minutes, we perfectly know where we want to go and what must be done to get there”.

Well, then tell me what your goal is!?

The CEO spoke up and stated it in a short sentence.

Sorry Sir, I replied, this Goal is not suitable. It is not compelling, not sexy. Who would want to follow you for achieving such a Goal?

…puzzled audience…

I explained further: short-term survival (what the proposed Goal actually meant) is frightening, not compelling. People will think the situation is worse than they thought and the executives are focusing only on short-term survival, which means they have their doubts about it.
If you truly believe in the company’s assets and your ability to lead it into a new bright future, tell it!

What followed was a two hours debate and trial to reformulate the initial Goal. During this exercise, I pointed out several points the CxO mentioned among themselves but did not embed into their vision statement.

Yes, but we know it, it’s implicit!
Sorry I am no good at decoding implicit and picking up the unspoken. You should assume that many of your employees and of your customers are like me, not able to understand the hidden indications.

I explained that this is a lack of clarity reservation. A transformation project as vital as the one the company is going to engage needs a Goal expressed with clarity, so that everybody understands it without additional explanations.

This is not about wordsmithing, simply about clarity.

Once a more compelling Goal was stated, the CEO acknowledged it was necessary to refine and restate the Goal and this exercise was an eye opener.
Two more hours were necessary to select five Critical Success Factors. Many attempts failed because of the usual mismatching between Necessary Conditions and Critical Success Factors (CSF).

The grins had long vanished, the audience was now frowning, deeply concentrating to express the CSFs as clearly as they did for the Goal. The execs understood how important it was to be specific before searching for the underlying Necessary Conditions, and how this would help future communication.

By the end of the afternoon we had one Goal and five CSF stated in satisfactory way.

What first looked as piece of cake took four hours to correctly fill six boxes.


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