Another New Year's Day has passed and we find ourselves enjoying the endless promise of 2005, our hearts filled with hope, our noses affixed firmly to the grindstone. To each and every one of us, the new year brings a variety of challenges and obstacles, and the positive among us embrace the optimistic mindset as expressed by the English poet Robert Browning, who believed that "our aspirations are our possibilities." Of course, he might very well have been merely replying to his wife, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who declared that "an ignorance of means may minister to greatness, but an ignorance of aims makes it impossible to be great at all." Regardless of that, in as American a tradition as fireworks on the Fourth of July, the arrival of the new year brings with it eternal hope in the form of the New Year's resolution.
Within our companies, we tend not to make resolutions. Instead, we establish goals. Financial goals. Personal goals. Technological goals. Operational goals. From Wall Street to Main Street, goals are what drive achievement in the business world. Sometimes we develop goals out of realistic expectations, while other times goals are developed out of hope, necessity, or even desperation.
Goals are developed for a variety of reasons. Some companies use goals as benchmarks for progress and achievement. Some use them to incentivize employees. Some use them to guide the expectations of investors. Sometimes, goals are legitimate performance targets; other times, merely the expression of hopes and prayers.
There are similarities between the New Year's resolutions of individuals and the goals set by company executives. In both cases, just as there are those that are made with the expectation of success, there are also those made with absolutely no confidence in their achievement.
I would wager that, just like personal resolutions, there are plenty of companies who set identical goals each and every year because they didn't succeed in reaching them the previous year. This is the year that I will finally quit smoking. This is the year that we will increase sales by 20 percent. This is the year I will lose those extra 30 pounds. This is the year we will implement an employee training program. This is the year I will stop womanizing (or manizing). This is the year we will stick to our expense budgets.
One could find this annual recitation of vows to be amusing, or perhaps even sad or pathetic. As someone who might...