Who needs long-term goals?

Guest contribution by | 14.11.2019

As a teenager, I spent months and months in libraries. I was on a mission. I was looking for the secrets of successful people. Whenever I found a list like “The 10 most important books to succeed”, I borrowed and read all ten. I wanted to find out what the entrepreneurs, politicians, sportsmen, adventurers of this world do differently from everyone else. I was not very successful.

What’s the most important thing?

Again and again I stumbled across the same sentence: “The most important thing is to know what you really want.” I repeat that again: “The most important thing is to know what you really want”.

This sentence annoyed me. “Such nonsense”, I thought to myself. “Everybody knows what he or she wants.” I had the impression, “they don’t want to reveal their real secrets and that’s why they talk themselves out with such general platitudes.

But the more often I got desperate of myself in the course of my life (and sometimes get desperate again) – the more obvious it became to me that I just don’t always know what I really want. What we all know very well is what we DO NOT want. And then we often take the convenient shortcut and simply declare the opposite to be the goal. If, for example, I have the problem that I cannot control my company growth, then my goal becomes: “I want to be able to control my company growth”.

But it’s not that simple.

Practice in companies

Just yesterday I spoke to three entrepreneurs. All three have been in business for some time. I asked all three: “Where do you want to be in 12 months? And none of them had a clear idea.

Of course, somehow everyone wanted to be further than they are now:

  • More customers.
  • More turnover.
  • Better marketing.
  • More employees to help out.

But what exactly do the entrepreneurs want? How many more customers? How much more turnover? How do you recognise that your marketing is getting better? Which tasks do these employees take over from you?

And above all: Which of these goals is most important? Because usually not everything can be done at the same time. So what gets priority? As long as there are several important goals, there is no really important goal.

Goals in agile times

During one of these talks, the question even arose as to whether long-term goals were meaningful and possible at all? After all, we live in times when it is modern to be agile. That means planning only short cycles and looking every month anew at where the journey should go in the next 4 weeks. Because: the future lies in the stars anyway. And we have all noticed that it is constantly changing.

So are medium- and long-term goals not outdated? A relic from times that have not changed as quickly as ours? A good question.

In fact, I myself questioned for a long time whether goals have more disadvantages than advantages. Today I am convinced that the advantages clearly outweigh the disadvantages. I will try to explain it using an example.

Let’s assume it’s about a new business idea. A customer is ready to close a deal. A good business. An interesting project. But: the customer is not the perfect customer. 30% of the project would be tasks that are not in the core offer, that the company does not like so much. Of course you would manage them, but not so efficiently and not so reliably. And the company actually wanted to concentrate on its core services and not constantly expand the vendor’s tray.

On the other hand: it would be good earnings. The customer has potential for more. An additional opportunity for recommendations. Perhaps even a strong case study could be made of it …

So, how should the company decide?

  • Should the intentions of staying in the core segment be thrown overboard again?
  • Should the business opportunity be ignored – now that it is on a silver platter after so much work has been invested?
  • Should the company look for a partner to take over the 30%? But where does it find a partner that quickly?

Not that simple, is it?

The zigzag course

Without a clear goal in mind, no one knows how this decision will turn out. And the result is (I know this from myself): sometimes the boss decides to the left, sometimes to the right, sometimes straight ahead. And that confuses the employees. They conclude: The boss doesn’t know what he wants. And somehow they are actually right.

It is then the employees who want a strategy, a clear vision, because they have the feeling that sometimes it goes in one direction, and sometimes in the other. Maybe now you think it’s about communication, but that’s not true. Even if you explain the reasons for the decision to the employees, it won’t help them. Because how will the boss decide next time? Nobody knows. That creates uncertainty. And little trust in the management.

What is even worse for me personally is the subtle feeling of insecurity that comes with such a zigzag course. Because deep down you feel that something is not right. That you’re on the move on ice. That it is slippery. It’s hard to be confident, calm and determined. And both employees and customers notice that. So what can we do?

The central question

There’s this story of a rowing team. It had the goal to set a record with the rowing boat. Therefore, all decisions were based on a single question: “Does this decision make our boat faster?

So if one of the rowers was faced with a decision, for example,

  • Should I go crazy on the weekend?
  • Should I do additional education for my career?
  • Should I get more involved in my job?

it was followed by the central question: “Will this make our boat faster?

And all these decisions suddenly became very simple:

  • To be on the go at the weekend won’t make the boat faster. On the contrary.
  • Not even the additional education. Because then the time for training is missing.

I don’t want to evaluate whether these decisions are always the right ones for the individual persons. But: do you trust the team to set a new record? A team that concentrates so much on one goal and directs all its energies towards it? Absolutely.

So, what is your rowing boat question that you base your decisions on? This question has massive implications. Many companies, for example, define their future goals in terms of turnover or the number of employees. That’s why the rowing boat question is: “How can I make more sales?

We at “Umsatzsprung”, on the other hand, want to achieve the highest profitability per employee. Our rowing boat question is: “How can we increase our revenues – without additional employees?

This – relatively small – difference alone has a huge impact on how the company will develop:

  • If you want to generate more sales, you ask: “What additional services can we offer?
  • If you want higher profitability, you ask: “To whom can I outsource services that are not so valuable to our clients?
  • If you want more revenue, you ask: “How can I scale my services?
  • If you want more profitability, you ask: “What would customers be willing to pay a lot for, even if it’s difficult to multiply?
  • If you want to make more sales, ask: “Where can I find more customers who need what I have?
  • If you want more profitability, ask: “How do I further develop my clients so that they benefit even more from our services than they do today and therefore pay for even more services?

And we can already see from these examples: two companies could be active in the same industry with similar services for similar customers, and yet they will look different just because one company aims for growth and size and the other for profitability.

So we don’t get it wrong: That’s not an evaluation. There’s nothing wrong with choosing one or the other. There are no bad goals in this sense. The only bad option is to have no targets. Or what is even worse: vague goals. Because you think you have goals, but in reality you don’t have any.  From that point of view, you were probably right, all the great personalities from the books in the libraries of this world, in which I was hanging around: “The most important thing is to know what you really want”.

If only someone had explained to me how difficult that can be.

Happy selling



Do you want to talk to Alex Rammlmair about your goals and how you can achieve them? Then have a look at Umsatzsprung and make an appointment.

Alex Rammlmair has published two more posts on the t2informatik Blog:

t2informatik Blog: No wonder that no software developer applies to you

No wonder that no software developer applies to you

t2informatik Blog: Why I advise my clients against agile software development today

Why I advise my clients against agile software development today

Alex Rammlmair
Alex Rammlmair

Alex Rammlmair helps IT companies to grow in a targeted and strategic way. He is managing director of AX-XO GmbH and offers with “Umsatzsprung” a service through which companies fill their lead pipelines, establish a reliable sales process and develop a scalable business model. He likes to give others back the fun of selling and to have a Plan B in his pocket.