Achieving our goals in uncertain times

Special forces soldiers jump out of a plane

Achieving our goals in a churning world requires a very different approach from achieving the same outcomes in a stable environment.

What are these skills and how can we acquire them?

One way we can find out is by benchmarking. This means looking at other organisations that are already experts at doing the thing we want to improve and then copying or adapting what they do.

So which organisations are already best practice at achieving specific, measurable goals in highly unpredictable situations?

I can’t think of a better example than elite army units. Special forces operating behind enemy lines know before they begin that their plan will not survive first contact with the enemy. But they still manage to accomplish their objectives in highly unpredictable, even hostile environments.

They achieve this by defining two things:

  • First, as well as knowing their mission objective, they make sure that every team member also understands the underlying purpose of the mission, the role it plays as part of the wider campaign. Then, when things turn out differently from the way they expected, every person can find new actions in pursuit of the same purpose — and do so independently if necessary.
  • Second, every unit is given rules of engagement. These define what actions (such as returning fire) are allowed and not allowed under different circumstances. This reduces distractions, keeps the unit focused on its priorities, and maximises the chance of success.

For us, the equivalents of purpose and rules of engagement are our purpose and values:

  • Our purpose defines the underlying intention, the underlying ‘why’, behind whatever we are doing. Being clear about this enables us to keep ourselves facing in the same direction even when the world changes.
  • Our values show us which issues are priorities for us: the ones it is important to take action on. They also show us which issues we can ignore — perhaps even more valuable when so much is changing. Knowing these two things keeps us focused on what matters most to us.
    Our values also define how we choose to behave, no matter what our colleagues or competitors, clients or politicians might do or say. Knowing our values keeps us centred and grounded and able to take the best actions for us. It helps us to step into the unknown. This maximises productivity and helps us to achieve our purpose.

Defining purpose and rules of engagement enables elite army units to succeed in highly dynamic, even hostile environments.

Defining our purpose and values gives us the focus and the flexibility to achieve the results we seek — even in a changing world.

Would you like to increase your ability to get the results you want in a changing world? Do you know your three core values and your life purpose?

Adapted from Inner Leadership: a framework and tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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Photo By USASOC News Service via

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