The most important part of any decision-making process is to determine the goal. It seems simple, but one of the most common distractions in problem-solving is forgetting to focus on the goal (or focusing on an incorrect or incomplete goal).
The value of goal-setting has been well-researched by social psychologists. The better you understand what is expected of you, the better you are able to strategize a course of action and the more likely you are to achieve the desired performance.
Setting a clear goal should be the first step of any decision-making process. But how many times do we start to solve a problem by recognizing the problem, but not clarifying exactly what “solving it” looks like? Goals provide focus and direction. They illustrate what increased performance looks like. By using your goal to illustrate success, you are able to make sure that the goal will actually lead to better performance.
Setting the Right Goal
Business consultants have developed a slew of acronyms for the things that are important in goal-setting, but the most well-known is SMART Goals. Goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.
Goals need to be achievable yet still challenging. Goals that are too easy create apathy, but if they are too difficult, you risk discouragement.
In a coaching conversation, it’s important for both the coach and the coachee to be aware of the goal of the conversation. What do both parties want to walk away with? You’re setting a goal for the conversation based on a specific performance goal.
The performance goal may be to turn in a report on time each week. The goal for the conversation shouldn’t be “to talk about turning reports in” but rather something like: “leave the meeting with a 3-step plan and clear deadlines for each step to make sure reports are turned in on time.”
Part of setting and understanding a goal is determining the consequences if the goal is not met. This will clarify your reality and help frame what you see as viable options to solve the problem.
Throughout the problem-solving process, continue to check back in on your goal to make sure that you are still on track and solving the right problem. It’s easy to get side-tracked and start down a rabbit-hole solving a different problem.
You can also think of checking back in on your goal like recalibrating. Am I still on track to meet my goal? Do I need to adjust my options to meet my goal? At any point in the process, you can make the determination that you need to refine your goal to be more attainable.
Once you've determined and clarified the goal, consider the realities of your situation.