Before you respond by lecturing me on the wisdom of setting goals, you should know that I am committed to the process of goal setting as a best practice for a number of different business expressions.  Goal-setting, for example, is at the heart of our Kahle Way® Sales Management System.  It is one of the ‘secrets’ in my book, Eleven Secrets of Time Management for Sales People.  It is a part of almost every presentation I make to sales people and business leaders. So, I understand and advocate for setting goals in most business situations.

Having acknowledged that, I am still asking the question on behalf of a very small segment of the business community – those entrepreneurs and business leaders who strive to run a business on Biblical principles and practices.  (See The Good Book on Business.)

This question presented itself to me several years ago.  I was phone interviewing business owners for a consulting project.  My questions covered several best practices.  When I asked one business owner about setting goals, she replied, “We are a Christian organization.  We don’t believe in setting goals, but instead, we react to the opportunities that God brings to us.” I had never heard that before.  I was too stunned to collect my thoughts and dig deeper. But, that conversation has stuck with me for years, as it reveals a fundamentally different view on how to run an organization.

Goal-setters assume the responsibility for guiding the organization and begin that process by identifying the most important priorities and initiatives of the organization, turning them into goals, communicating them to the organization, and then measuring and managing progress toward those goals. The key issue here is responsibility.  By virtue of their ownership or executive position, the small group of goal-setters in any organization accept the responsibility to sort out the priorities and mandate the initiatives.  For want of any higher authority, the goal setters assume that they know what is best for the organization.

Typically, these goals are a means to an end.  For example, we may want the organization to ‘be the best in our industry,’ So, we create some annual goals that represent our best thinking on what actions move the organization closer to its vision.

So, goal-setting in a business context rests on the goal-setters having a vision (or at least a higher purpose) for the organization and then assuming the responsibility to make the decisions as to which initiatives or goals will move the organization toward that vision.  Someone has to lead, and that’s their job. By virtue of their position, they know better than the rest of the folks.

Now, imagine a business organization in which the owners and executives do not have a vision to be accomplished, nor a belief that it is their responsibility to make the fundamental decisions for the organization.  Imagine that organization holding that it is God’s responsibility, not theirs, to guide the organization. God is their senior partner. The principals in this organization would take seriously and literally the Biblical passages that indicate that God is the source of prosperity.  They would have attained an uncommon level of spiritual maturity and relationship with God.

In such an organization, in place of the traditional strategic planning exercises, the principals would more highly value prayer, listening for God’s prompting, and reading circumstances that indicated God’s leading. In such an organization, annual goals might be seen as usurping God’s authority and indicating a degree of arrogance.

The question that naturally follows is this:  Does one format necessarily exclude the other?  In other words, can a business organization be both God-directed and goal-focused at the same time?

Yes.  There is room for both formats in a Biblically-oriented business. If the principals begin with the “God as senior partner” premise, diligently seek to learn God’s leading in their business, then this year’s goals could be God-directed instead of man-created.  Having first diligently prayed for his leading, the goal-setting process could be a process of identifying the priorities and initiatives given to them by God. The goal-setting process, which follows, could be a way to bridge the gap between God-given initiatives and the daily behavior of the organization.

With this approach, the vision comes from God, and the responsibility to direct the organization is also God’s.  The principals see themselves as conduits for that leading and use goals as a management device to help harness the troops in that direction.

I realize that this post might stimulate all kinds of conversation.  Please feel free to comment. ###