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Getting to the moon and back: What FMs need to know about goal-setting to achieve the outcome they want

by Michael Arny, P.E., LEED AP and Mary Reames, J.D., LEED AP, Leonardo Academy — There’s been a lot of talk lately about goals. Historically, President Kennedy set a goal to land a man on the Moon; that goal was met 50 years ago this month.

In more current news, we hear about corporations and governments setting ambitious climate goals every day. The State of New York recently set a goal to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Target Corporation has pledged to reduce its emissions by 30 percent below 2017 levels by 2030, and also aims to have 80 percent of its suppliers set their own emissions goals by 2023.

Goals are important. They keep us focused and on-task. They motivate us to stretch beyond current capabilities and reach for new heights – the Moon, for instance. Succeeding with an ambitious goal can bring professional recognition, such as a ticker-tape parade down Broadway in New York City, as well as personal satisfaction, fulfillment, and career advancement.

But failure is always an option. If President Kennedy had committed the United States to achieving the goal before the end of the 1960s, of landing a man on, say, Mars and returning him safely to the Earth, that goal probably wouldn’t have been met. So how do we set goals that push us to reach new heights but don’t choose heights that are out of reach?

So, on this anniversary of achieving one of the greatest goals in modern history, here is a refresher on goal setting.

Types of Goals

If you Google “types of goals,” you will find links to numerous articles telling you there are three, or four, or even ten types of goals. One way to categorize goals that makes sense to us, from a business perspective, is to divide them into time-based goals, objective-based (or focus) goals, and subject- or topic-based goals.

Time-based goals: These are often divided into short-term and long-term goals. You can even toss in a medium-term goal category if that suits you. You can also define your timeframe; a short-term goal may be one you can achieve in a day, a month, or a year, while a long-term goal might be one you meet in 10 years or one you are always working on. Landing on the Moon within the decade was a long-term goal, although the folks at NASA may have thought the time frame was far too short.

Objective-based goals, or focus goals, are those where you can picture the end result you want to achieve. In a recent editorial in Greenbiz, Joel Makower reflected on why we call extremely ambitious goals “moonshots.” Whether your goal is a moonshot or your personal brass ring, it is a specific outcome that you will work towards.

Subject-based goals are more compartmentalized. For a business, each division will have its own subject-based goals; the Sales division will increase sales by 5% in the next year, Marketing will convert 20 new leads in the next month; R&D will develop a prototype of Widget 2.0 within 60 days. In keeping with our theme, there were specific goals for contractors Grumman Aircraft and North American Aviation, who built the lunar lander and the command module, as well as for NASA itself.

Of course, these types overlap. You can set objective-based goals for every division in your company. And most goals will be either short-term or long-term. Reaching the Moon within 10 years was a long-term objective-based goal. These categories are just ways of organizing your thoughts about the specific goals you want to set.

Setting your Goals

As with types of goals, there are numerous models for how to set goals. Our personal favorite is the SMART goal: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. Let’s look at JFK’s famous goal: that the country “should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” Without realizing it, JFK set a SMART goal, one that gave us purpose, direction, and a ticking clock.

Specific: JFK’s goal was for the U.S. to land someone on the Moon and bring him back safely. If he had instead stated that he wanted the U.S. to achieve some form of space travel, he would not have named a specific goal.

Measurable: A trip to the Moon and back is a measurable event. When it is done, the goal has been achieved and we can celebrate, then move on to our next goal.

Attainable: JFK thought we could do it. He pushed everyone involved to their limits, but in the end, he was right. What if we hadn’t reached the Moon until 1970? Or what if we didn’t reach the Moon at all, but we did get a man into orbit and back? We still would have advanced our knowledge of physics, engineering, computing, and numerous other sciences by giant leaps.

Relevant: The U.S.S.R. had already put a man into orbit. The U.S. was falling behind in the space race. To JFK and Congress, sending a man to the Moon (and bringing him back) was not only relevant, but crucial to our national interests.

Time-bound: JFK set a deadline – the end of the decade – that drove the timelines for meeting all of the objectives necessary to achieve the end goal.

For facility managers, your goals will probably be more earthbound, but hopefully just as SMART. For example, rather than stating that you will make your building more energy efficient, you may decide to improve your ENERGY STAR® score by five points within the next two years. The goal is Specific (improve the ENERGY STAR score), Measurable (five points), Attainable (through the various tools and strategies to improve building and equipment efficiency), Relevant (because climate change), and Time-bound (two years).

Achieving your Goal

You now have a SMART goal; what’s next? How do you get from here to there? Large-scale, long-term, objective-based goals can be daunting and seemingly impossible to tackle. Put a man on the Moon? Within the decade? Where do we even begin???

With a clear focus (your goal) in mind, it is easier to plot the path you will have to take. Joel Makower asks, “WWIT?” or “What Would it Take?” The Natural Step program calls this “Backcasting”, or imagining a successful future outcome and then determining the steps to reach that outcome.

Approaching a goal as the outcome of a series of steps, or objectives, is the best way to approach large challenges. For NASA, those steps included numerous other missions, including putting someone into orbit around Earth (Apollo 7) and putting someone into orbit around the Moon (Apollo 8). Whether you use spreadsheets, project management software, or Post-It Notes® on a wall calendar or whiteboard, you have to create your To-Do list of actionable objectives.

Each of your objectives toward your ultimate goal – each Apollo mission – can be a SMART goal in itself. And after you take each small step, you’ll not only get to put a checkmark in the “Done” column or pull your Post-It off your whiteboard, you’ll be that much closer to achieving your giant leap.

Over the years, we’ve talked about a lot of great goals that will help reduce emissions, increase energy efficiency, or improve the bottom line: for example, right-sizing your waste hauling services, LEED-EB® recertification, or improved ENERGY STAR scores.  Whatever your goals for managing your building, meeting a goal that you have set will be as rewarding to you as getting to the Moon and back.

Leonardo Academy is a nonprofit organization that develops sustainability solutions through consultation and certification services in the LEED Green Building Rating System and the Cleaner & Greener sustainable event program. Leonardo Academy also provides sustainability and continuing education training, including training for the LEED Green Associate credential for individuals who support green buildings in their profession, such as building owners and facility managers.

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