I compared having a goal for your plan to Lord of the Rings and the hobbits going to the Mordor. Let’s talk about goals and objectives.
I’ve had to defend having both in a communications plan on a few occasions. “Goals, objectives, the same thing,” people say as they put the two under one heading. But they are very different.
On bad days, my objective may be to make it home and keep my perspective. But my goal remains: To do great work. To change something important. To help people connect to each other.
Your goal is a big thing, the end game. A goal is not writing a press release, creating a plan, or meeting someone. When you read the word goal, I want you to read it in a soccer announcer’s voice, “GOAL!” A goal is big and probably a bit exciting and scary. When you achieve goals you put them on your LinkedIn, when you reach objectives, you tell your manager.
So let’s get back to the Lord of the Rings. What was the goal of the hobbits? They wanted to keep the Shire safe.
When the Ring appears, Gandalf says Frodo needs to get out of town. His first objective is to get away from the Shire so the black riders leave. He thinks meeting Gandalf and handing over the Ring is the goal. This was only the objective — a waypoint on the journey.
How often do we wait for our manager or our CEO or the fabled consultant to help solve our problem? Then they don’t show up. Or when they show up, they can’t solve the problem. Having a meeting to outline the goal or make a plan is only an objective. Making a plan can be an objective, but it sure isn’t your goal.
Gandalf doesn’t show (or reschedules their meeting). This project isn’t going to manage itself, so they have to do something. Also it’s getting a bit scary. So the little hobbits head to Rivendell, home of the elves, where someone will know what to do.
The solution to deliver the Ring to Mount Doom, seems clear (if impossible). But how to do it, is not. No one agrees that it can be done. But a plucky little team gathers around someone who says, “Let’s try” and off they go. It’s funny how sometimes once you say, “It can be done,” people often step on board to help out.
The goal is now to save the Shire and the world. Since the goal has changed, the objectives need to change. The hobbits didn’t fail when they didn’t meet Gandalf, they just had to change how they were going to do it.
Sure, one does not just walk into Mordor but how often have we heard phrases like, “One does not simply change the way we manage projects” or, “One does not simply introduce a new customer tracking system.” The truth is, we can’t do anything, until we do it. And humans have shown an amazing ability to do what needs to be done.
Too often we confuse the objective, for example, an improved customer tracking systems, with the goal, increasing customer loyalty and retention.
Getting to Mordor is impossible unless you continue to focus on the objectives you can reach — like the hobbits.
The hobbit team sets out like we do so often in projects. The great grey manager or wizard, Gandalf, says it is best to go through the Misty Mountains. The objective is to walk across Redhorn Pass — but things change and the hobbits need to change their objective to make it through the mines of Moira.
Again, the goal didn’t change, just the objectives.
The truth is, our objectives need to be flexible. Goals are goals, objectives are the things we do along the way. We can’t get so hung up on our objectives we forget the big things we are trying to do. But we can’t overlook setting objectives so we know how we are going to reach our goal.
So the next time you look at your plan and think “Ah, I have a goal, I don’t need objectives (or vice versa)” remember those little hobbits using their big feet to walk from one objective to another to reach their goal. Because no one could walk into Mordor until someone did, and no one could imagine you doing what needs to be done, until you do.