29 June 2007

Organizational Goals are Meaningless Goals

Organizational Goals are Meaningless Goals

I've become an officer for a local Toastmaster's club and we officers are supposed to articulate club goals next week. I have a problem with this, one that is not specific to Toastmaster's but applies to organizations in general.

Faithful readers of this blog - you two know who you are - have read previous posts in which I've talked about a corporate revolution that, in part, turns the corporation into a tool for the individual, reversing the current order in which the individual is a tool for the corporation. Such a shift suggests a change in emphasis, or sequence, for the articulation of goals.

To me, there are few things as meaningless as organizational goals. As near as I can tell, "organizations" are abstractions that have no real interest in whether these organizational goals are met or not. People, though, do have goals and can be seized by care or apathy. Stockholders have goals for returns by a certain date. Employees have goals for engaging work, development, and income. Customers have goals for convenience, affordability, and enjoyment. Management is an art of creating relationships between these parties, making trade offs when needed and but generally designing solutions that allow all of these parties to meet their goals in ways that they couldn't in isolation from one another.

The more management knows about individual goals, the more they can make organizational design and priority decisions that enable these goals. The miracle of an organization is that it enables the realization of individual goals. The opposite, that the miracle of the individual is that s/he enables the realization of organizational goals, is false.

So, let me go back to the Toastmaster's example. Throughout the year, we get probably 40-80 first-time visitors. Of that, we probably gain about 20 new members while losing about 20. Individuals come to the club with particular goals in mind. Some want to learn how to engage audiences as they deliver regular reports. Some want to overcome stage fright, hesitancy, or rapid-fire delivery. Others want to learn how to read an audience, vary the pace, persuade, or simplify complex ideas. The club, or organization, will thrive if its leadership can figure out how to meet those needs. But before it can meet such needs, it needs to determine those needs.

Currently, there is far more emphasis on having new members learn the Toastmaster's process than there is in having Toastmaster's learn the goals of new members. To talk about organizational goals like signing up 20 new members or getting 5 existing members through the competent communications manual seems to me meaningless. Better to translate the goals of real people into organizational events, actions, and forums that enable the goals of individuals. An organization that does this is going to thrive. It may be transformed - may even change regularly - but it will thrive.

Organizations don't have goals or needs. People do. An organization's only justification is as a means to realize the goals of real people. As soon as leaders forget that and begin talking in abstract terms, they risk drifting into irrelevance and eventual obsolescence.


Anonymous said...

Deleting the truth doesn't make it go away.

Anonymous said...

but when i photoshop my pimples, remove my puffy eyebags, and whiten my teeth, for me it is gone.

Cody McKibben said...

Funny how some individuals think the organization (as if it were some kind of living organism) needs growth, even before they know if it is fulfilling its purpose for people. It wants to grow(!), right? Why do we want to export it to more and more people if it is not fulfilling their needs? (Obviously, you are losing 20 people at the same time as you gain 20, what are they not getting out of it anymore, I wonder?)

Funny, I'm actually a Toastmasters executive member now too.