Magazine Article | March 22, 2011

Setting Realistic Aspirations

By John Baldoni, Baldoni Consulting, LLC

Aspiration is something leaders need to leverage as they seek to inspire their followers. Aspiration is about setting goals that push the organization to strive to become better than it is now. Aspiration is a process of reaching for the stars. But before you can reach for the stars, you check the ground upon which you are standing. For example, if a CEO pushes for innovation but the culture is command and control, it will be hard to stimulate creativity if reporting systems are strictly top-down. Or, if an executive wants to decentralize decision making but insists on making all final decisions, then intention will never become real.

Aspirations, if they are to be credible, must be rooted in the culture of the organization. The tangible manifestation of aspirations is goal-setting. Aspirations are important for organizations because they give people something over the horizon to aim for. Here are three questions to ask as you craft aspirations that challenge the organization in ways that lend hope as well as credibility.

Is the aspiration credible? Goals with aspirational qualities are ones that get people enthused about doing their best work to achieve a significant achievement for the organization. Examples of aspiration might be becoming an employer of choice, becoming the industry leader, or even setting the standard of quality in the industry. If the company cannot realistically achieve such an aim, working toward it might involve more frustration than progress, and in the process, work against morale and defeat an organization.

Is the aspiration beneficial? Aspirations ultimately are about improving performance. Therefore, when promoting the aspiration, attention needs to focus on how the goal will make the organization better in specific terms. That is, if the goal is to improve quality, then the aspiration must complement the quality improvement process. Aspirations are also rallying cries, getting people pumped about what it is they are challenged to do.

Is the aspiration sustainable? Aiming for a goal is a good thing, but you need to assess the cost. For example, if you want to increase sales, discuss how doing that is good for the organization and is it something that will make the organization better for customers. Too often goals are set for the short term, that is, just to make the numbers. That may be a goal, but it's not an aspiration, because it may not be repeatable, and it may cost the organization more in terms of manpower and resources.

Feasibility is one thing to keep in mind about aspirations. For example, for a struggling company, it might be a stretch to become an industry leader, but setting a goal of becoming a respected competitor is realistic. Likewise, becoming an employer of choice might be outside the immediate realm, but adjusting the time frame to become so in three to five years is realistic. Aspirations, therefore, need to be employee- and employer-friendly; otherwise they will not work.

There is another benefit to aspirations — sparking debate about what an organization can achieve. An aspiration may come from a senior leader, but it should be batted around by others. It should provoke discussion about organizational capabilities and, in doing so, lead to changes that make the company stronger. For example, if a company wants to introduce a new product or service, it must make certain it has the talent to design, develop, and deliver the offering. Otherwise the venture is doomed to fail. Having a discussion about the aspiration beforehand is an opportunity to address what an organization needs to do to prepare itself for new developments.

About The Author
John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership development consultant, executive coach, author, and speaker. In 2010 Top Leadership Gurus named John one of the world's top 25 leadership experts. John's newest book is 12 Steps to Power Presence: How to Assert Your Authority to Lead.
www.johnbaldoni.com.

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