Achieving our goals in uncertain times

Special forces soldiers jump out of a planeAchieving our goals in a churning world requires different skills from achieving the same outcomes in a stable environment.

What are these skills and how can we acquire them?

One answer is by benchmarking: this means looking at other industries that are already experts at the particular skill we want to improve and copying or adapting what they do.

Which industries are already best practice at achieving specific, measurable goals in highly unpredictable environments?

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

The way they accomplish this is by defining just two things:

  • First, as well as knowing the mission objective, every team member also understands the underlying purpose of the mission: the role it plays as part of the wider campaign. This means that when things turn out differently from what was expected, every person can act to carry out new actions in pursuit of the same purpose, 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 top priorities, and maximises the chance of success.

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

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 what we are doing. It enables us to keep ourselves pointed the same direction even if the world, or our goals, or the ways that we achieve them change.
  • Our values show us which issues are priorities for us and which issues we can ignore: this keeps us focused on what matters most to us. And our values also define how we will choose to behave, no matter what might happen around us — no matter what our colleagues or competitors, clients or politicians might do or say. Our values keep us centred and grounded and able to take the best actions for us. This maximises productivity and helps us to achieve our purpose.

By being clear on our purpose and our values, we give ourselves the focus and the flexibility to achieve the results we seek — even in a changing world.

And unlike the army units, we get to choose our purpose and values for ourselves.

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

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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