Small Businesses Need to Ask: What is Our Next Challenge?

Posted by Matt Reilly on 28 December, 2017

Many businesses, big and small, will be having meetings and focus groups in the next couple months to determine the big goals they have for 2018. Planning for goals is great, but sometimes “goals” can seem distant and difficult to plan for. What would happen if you had a meeting where each person got more specific, and spoke of the next big challenges that the business should tackle, rather than the next big goal the business should accomplish?


What might this do for your planning process? What different questions come to mind when you think about challenges instead of goals?


Let’s think of some examples, because ‘goals’ and ‘challenges’ might overlap a lot unless you consider how they are meaningfully different.


Think about cooking. If someone told you that your goal was to “bake a cake,” how would you start? What flavor would you choose? What style? What is the cake for? How many people need to be fed with it? The goal is too broad to have any reasonably specific and measurable expectations beyond “did a cake get baked, yes or no?”


But if the goal is instead made into a detail-oriented challenge, like “bake a double chocolate cake that can feed twelve people, and incorporate bright blue frosting into the design,” now there are several metrics for measuring success, and there is a strong direction for the baker to start with. The vision is clear, and more time can be spend doing rather than deciding.


Say your business wants to open a second location in a neighboring town. That’s pretty much how you would describe the goal: “Open a second location in a neighboring town by end of year.” It describes what you want to accomplish in the most general sense, without any real detail about how you will do it, or the desired quality of the end-result.


Ultimately, you have to hammer out the details to accomplish any goal, but rather than let important details about your goals be determined later, ad hoc, why not bake them (pun intended) right into the goal itself so that there are already parameters for challenges that must be overcome?


Would it stimulate more interesting discussion at your meeting if you phrase the same goal as a challenge rather than a generic end-point? For example, you could say: “Show the bank that giving us a small business loan for a second location is a great investment.”


That isn’t all there is to opening a second location, but it sounds like a challenge! It doesn’t sound like something you read in a business plan, it’s got a motivating spin to it. There is implied direction and strategy contained within it.


Why do this? Well, goals like “open up a second location by year-end” are almost too big to be helpful. There are so many sub-goals involved that any conversation about how to accomplish it, and what the end result will look like, is in danger of going off into tangents, arguments, or needless iteration without direction.


“Start a delivery service,” “redo the menu” and so on are all examples of goals that are too big to consider as a whole. They aren’t ideal for figuring out next steps and expected results. Instead, brainstorming challenges helps you and your team see the situation as a series of problems that each need a solution, which should help focus the thinking and allow everyone to dive deeper into possible strategies.


Not “open up a second location,” but instead “show the bank that giving us a small business loan for a second location is a great investment.”


Not “start a delivery service,” but instead “find a new employee who will bring unique ideas for the new delivery capabilities we want.”


Not “redo the menu,” but instead “figure out a classic dish that no restaurant in the area is currently known for, and create a unique version of it for our restaurant.”


Businesses still need big, generic goals. But those are for the owners and CEOs, not the teams expected to get stuff done. When talking to your team about how you will bring your business to the next level, start with detailed challenges, not generic goals.

Topics: Small Business Advice

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