If a person were to reflect on their career, their organization, or the various projects they were involved in, I would suspect that a theme that will emerge is that often times goals are not achieved in the way that was originally conceived. Often plans end up being tossed out of the window and project outcomes turn out to be different than was originally desired.
That does not necessarily equate with failure. One of the best known examples that is used in business school is that of “New Coke”. A couple of decades ago Coke was losing market share to Pepsi. So in an effort to stave off Pepsi’s assault some Coke executives determined that the best way to do so was to change the taste of Coke. They thought that if Coke were to taste more like Pepsi, customers would stay with their product and they would not lose the market to Pepsi. They set about to change the taste of Coke and in the process there was a huge outcry against this move in their customer base. The result was a demand by customers to revert to the old taste. Coke in the process ended up outpacing Pepsi in the market. There is no way to know for sure if the Coke executives intended for this outcry to happen or if their original move was a blunder that turned out to be a brilliant move.
The point that I am trying to make again is that our plans or goals that we set for ourselves and organizations often are not achieved in the way we want them to. In the end we often find ourselves in a different position and perhaps even better placed in the market.
Does that in itself mean that goal setting or visioning is useless? I believe the answer to that is no. Setting goals helps people to aspire to achieve something. However, what is truly important is the journey rather than the goal itself. If humans have a target in mind to reach, even if they deviate from this target, the momentum that allows them and their organizations to establish in moving forward affords them the ability to think of ways to succeed once it is discovered that the original goal is unrealistic or irrelevant.
Goal setting is indeed important because it allows leaders to define a vision for everyone to rally around so as to work together to achieve it. Without a goal it is impossible to motivate people to work hard or even get ourselves to start the journey. Not having a goal is like asking someone to jump on a train without knowing why and where they are going. People want more. Even if their final destination is different from what was originally expected, they would rather start with an end in mind over nothing.