How to Set Goals When the Future is Uncertain

decision making

Business leaders love to set goals, but the future is always uncertain.

This years strategic goals only become next years meaningless targets. The author suggests an alternative approach to goal-setting, which he callsstrategic aspiration. The key is choosing long-term, high-level goals that encapsulate the mission of your organization.

Then, instead of trying to predict a specific future and creating goals based on a specific future, you use your strategic vision to guide you through your daily decision-making.

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how to set goals when the future is uncertain

Future Uncertainty and the Traditional Approach to Goal Setting

Many companies have been setting ambitious goals and then failing to meet them for years. The reason is simple. Most organizations miss what is most important by trying to achieve too much at once.

They are trying to implement digital transformation alongside all other goals and their current business processes. When you’re trying to transform business as a whole you’re really setting yourself up for failure.

The problem is that the traditional goal setting apporach is based on a vision of the future that is too far away. It’s based on the assumption that if you don’t know what the future looks like, then you can’t plan for it.

But in today’s rapidly changing business environment, that’s a faulty assumption. You need to be agile and flexible. You need a process that will enable you to be agile and flexible.

The solution is to use a goal-setting process that is based on the present and the present only. It’s based on the idea that you can set goals for what you need to do in the next 90 days and you can achieve them. You don’t have to predict the future. You don’t have to be right about what the future will look like.

The Future is Always Uncertain: A Better Approach to Goal Setting

The future is always uncertain. The best way to deal with that uncertainty is to set goals that are ambitious but achievable. We’re not going to be able to predict the future. Our goals need to be good enough to allow us to react quickly and well to change. Motivate and incentivize. Use your goals as an important tool to ratchet up engagement and motivation. Use clear, challenging goals to drive your team to do their best work and achieve amazing things. Motivate employees with clear goals.

When goals are achievable the result is more than higher levels of motivation. It has been proven that achievable goals generate higher levels of cognitive engagement and peak performance. When setting goals it is important to include all stakeholders, and to be ambitious but realistic. It is also a good idea to be as clear as possible on how you will measure progress, so that the goals are more than just a statement of end result.

Strategic Aspiration: Goal-Setting for a Future We Can’t Predict

If we’ve learned anything it’s that we can no longer predict the future. Then again, could we ever?

Experts believe it's worth the effort to have no expectations, just aspirations.

Aspirations are goals that are beyond your current ability to achieve, but that you know, deep inside, you can achieve.

Aspirations require a radical shift in your mindset moving away from self-limiting doubts and toward openness to growth and business opportunities you may have otherwise missed.

Strategic Aspiration: A Tool for Daily Decision-Making

Strategic aspirations answer one monster question, where will we be in the future?  This aspiration needs to be reinforced at every turn.  Make this goal a real tool by explaining your decisions in light of this aspiration at every turn.

Repeat is so often you're tired of hearing it than do it twice as much and you've still only said it half as much as you should have said it.

You need everyone in your enterprise to be saying the strategic aspiration during their meetings and client calls.  It needs to become part of company culture.


Goal-setting may reduce the number of options people consider, scare them off from making bold decisions, and risk becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. A better way to frame strategy is to set strategic aspirations, and then ensure that the activities and investments of your organization align with these goals. After all, an aspiration is not a goal. It’s a destination that courses through every decision you make.

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