Steven's Blog

Goals versus Means

You know, the other day I was driving with my wife and son in the car taking us to a gymnastics practice for my son. My wife thought I took a wrong turn and told me. I was certain I had not, and insisted we were going the right way. My wife said no, it was definitely the other way. Now this argument over the best way to go went on for a while until we realized that we each had a different destination in mind. We each thought the gym practice was in a different place. As it turned out, I was wrong and my wife was right as is often the case in these matters.

But this reminded me of what I often see in companies when there is conflict over a decision–people arguing over the best way to do something when there is no common agreement on the goal. For example, it is pointless to have a debate on the best means of international expansion if there is no agreement on the goal of expanding internationally to begin with.

So, when I encounter conflict in decision-making, the first thing I do is identify whether or not the debate is over means or goals. Now if the debate is over means, I then seek to confirm whether or not there is agreement over the goal. If there is no agreement on the goal, we can stop talking about means and refocus attention on gaining agreement over the goal. Once we have agreement over the goal, it is possible to have a rational conversation about the merits and risks of different options for achieving the goal.

So the next time you encounter conflict over a decision, stop and ask whether you are debating over means or goals. Always seek to gain agreement on goals prior to debating means. This will save a lot of time and help with progress toward a decision. It may also help you get your son to gym practice on time.

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