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With proper goal setting, (almost) anything can be achieved. Because success has a structure. This article sheds light on this structure and on the roles that soft focus, “slicing” and stars play in achieving your biggest goals.

All roads lead to Rome. So, there are always several ways to get to a desired destination. And the same is true for successes. They are as individual as fingerprints. Each person can individually define what success is for them and also how to achieve it. One thing is certain: The one big goal is never just one giant leap away. I am not telling you something new. “Slicing” is the name of the game. The term was derived from computer science and means: Forming packages, defining sub-goals, proclaiming many small goals on the way to the big goal and (also) celebrating it when a small goal is achieved. This is a great art that only few people master.

The big goal is always the North Star. With every small goal you need to be clear on whether it is a step on the way to reaching your big goal or if you are already beginning to distract yourself at this point. The North Star helps you to keep your focus, because you stay concentrated on what is important in this moment and on what the next meaningful milestone is.

Goals are (almost) always achievable

There are no unrealistic goals. Only unrealistic deadlines. So, take your time to figure it out. Remember the reward system in your brain: We all prefer to do things that feel good immediately. Sometimes it would be more effective to do the difficult things first. Otherwise, you quickly fall into the trap of not doing. A goal is too big? Instead of getting started, we don’t even try. We stand still. The big goal seems unattainable. Step by step we must grow. It’s best to concentrate on growth in small steps. What sounds so trivial is crucial for your success. You should be disciplined and put one foot in front of the other until you reach your goal.

A prime example of this is Steve Jobs: He had the vision of a telephone without buttons, with a touch screen for all inputs, which should also be an MP3 player, camera, calendar, internet browser and so on. Without working methods to achieve the goal in small steps, Apple would probably not have managed to bring the iPhone to market. A pioneer not only in the development of technical devices, but also in the way they proceeded and worked towards the goal.

Leaving the comfort zone

The most widely known method in Silicon Valley is probably OKR. The abbreviation stands for Objectives and Key Results. The qualitative side is the Objectives, i.e. the (larger) goals that answer the question: Where do we want to go? Key Results present the quantitative side and define the individual measurable steps towards the goal. OKR has become famous as a working method at Google. But it is much older and was used at Intel as early as the mid-1970s.

This framework anchors the awareness about goal setting and goal achievement in your day-to-day business – and helps to define the right goals, find suitable sub-goals and focus on them. Larger goals are always ambitious and may always be outside the comfort zone. However, the intermediate steps should always be measurable. Requirements for people and products can always change. Agility is the magic word. If you stay calm and relaxed and pursue your goals without tension (keyword: soft focus), it is also easy for you to be agile and to constantly adapt to everything, if necessary, even yourself.

Take time, give time

Whether goals are too specific or unspecific often only becomes apparent over time. It is crucial that you as a manager remain calm and wait and see, instead of reacting hectically to all changes and developments.

I met Frank Sielaff in Seeheim in the south of Hessen. He was Head of Digital Media in Group Communications at Merck and is now Managing Director of entrusted, a consulting firm for digital strategies. At Merck, he created a globally uniform platform for internal digital communication and relaunched the company website. Mammoth tasks, with many hurdles to overcome. The project lasted several years and was accompanied by many setbacks. Sielaff never gave up and never failed. “The goal in my head was a uniform communication platform. That goal was absolutely immovable.” Well, if it’s not that fast, then step by step.

Understanding setbacks as opportunities

But how did he manage to not lose sight of the big goal, to consistently stick with it and finally achieve it? “In small steps,” explains Frank Sieflaff. He started with technology and tried to structure the technical chaos there. “Only much later did my understanding of the organizational and communicative chaos grow, which went hand in hand with the lack of a technical basis.” But: Due to the focus on technology, a green light was only given for a small solution, after the first pitch in front of the IT board at the time. Nobody was prepared for the big pitch. “The small step that I got the okay for was more like adding on than converting.”

This was followed by a period with some setbacks. But then: “We gradually built a community for the project within the company. The exciting thing was to keep the momentum up. There were about 500 people involved and we had to keep them motivated.” In the end it worked – and to this day the majority of users are satisfied with the developed solution.

Light at the end of the tunnel

What can we learn from this? That the same rule applies to mammoth tasks: It only works in small steps. We cannot expect to change the world immediately. To the contrary: We are all working hard over a long period of time to achieve a great goal. That makes the intermediate goals, the many small individual steps, all the more important. If you know them, you can see light at the end of the tunnel right from the beginning. When you and your team are clear about what the next steps are, reaching the goal becomes much easier. After all, you only have to follow your plan – step by step. Then you won’t mind seeing the countless successes of others. Because you have long known that these successes are the result of long working days, many failed attempts, falling down and getting back up. However, this is rarely reported on in success stories.

Endurance, discipline and persistence

Take the time to study one of these “great successes”. For more than 20 years I have been dealing with the topics “How to reach big goals” and “How success works”. The bottom line? Success is a structure. First focus on what you want. Then focus all your energy on it. Every day. Every single day. Until you make it. These are the small steps to the next big thing. Nobody will ever ask you how you got there.

About the book

This interview is an excerpt from the book „DO EPIC STUFF! – Leadership after Change Management”, published by Campus Verlag. Transformation expert René Esteban explains together with senior leaders of today’s business world how to achieve challenging goals together. Learn more about the book and order it directly.

About the author

René Esteban is the founder and CEO of the consulting company FocusFirst GmbH. With his team he supports executives in the global corporate environment to achieve their most challenging goals with focus and inspiration – and at the same time to develop the corporate culture towards more empathy and humanity.

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FocusFirst GmbH
René Esteban
Founder, CEO