I love Wildly Important Goals

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I love WIG’s — Wildly Important Goals. You should too.

Several years ago, I took The 4 Disciplines of Execution course from FranklinCovey. The course was mostly about setting up the foundation, through goals, of excellent execution. The course covered how to build goals, measurement systems, and how to determine an objective’s importance. It’s a good course.

But what fascinated me were WIG’s.

Here’s the underlying premise: in their work, people can only concentrate on 2-3 big goals over a long period of time. A period of time such as a year — the time frame for an annual review. Any more goals than that become a distraction.

Wildly Important Goals are simply defined: if we don’t do X goal, we will fail.

That’s it.

It’s wildly important because if we don’t do it, we will fail.

This type of goal has great benefits — but also a few drawbacks. Let’s take a look.

Wildly Important Goals’s Drive Employee Engagement

When your sole work role is to complete one or two Wildly Important Goals, your attitude toward work changes in a lot of ways:

  • When you agreed to this important goal, you realized it was an important goal. The filtering process helps drive this home, but wouldn’t you work a lot differently if you knew the work was important and not just management saying it was important?
  • You have time to focus. Focus affects your performance like nothing else. Being able to focus on 1-2 goals for the year clearly eliminates the chattering noise looking for attention.
  • If you won’t accomplish the goal, we will fail. Um, we’re really counting on you — and so is your team. If you don’t do it, we’ll fail. Changes your perspective, doesn’t it?
  • A wildly important goal will get attention, resources, and roadblocks removed so as to achieve the goal. Because it’s wildly important.

How WIG’s worked for me as a manager

I had the opportunity as a manager to implement Wildly Important Goals for one review period with my group. Initially, it was a little hard to determine what was wildly important — compared to just important (the enemy of “great” is “good”) — but once we did and got moving on the goals, some great things happened:

  • Everyone in the group knew their role on the team.
  • Everyone knew their goal was important to the team.
  • Because it was wildly important, each team member had no issues coming to me or other members of the team to figure out how to get something done or to remove roadblocks.
  • Creativity shot up over the work being done because each person was both constrained by the goal and could focus their time on the goal instead of the latest and loudest.
  • Aggressive goals were knocked out of the ball park. And I thought they were hard goals.

Wildly Important Goals won’t work in every work environment

To be fair, my belief is most companies, certainly most large companies, won’t implement this method of goal setting. There is some specific reasoning behind this belief:

  • There is too much corporate culture belief where goals need to cascade to the various departments and finally to specific individuals. Multiple goals, certainly important ones, will instead drive the goal-setting process because of this belief.
  • Let’s be frank: fewer goals is scary. Especially if you don’t hit them even if they are wildly important and you don’t get close. Or you do get close but still just miss. What happens to your performance review rating then? This is what initially drove the people that worked for me away from this approach. This approach requires a lot of trust between the manager and team.
  • Workability with compensation also plays a factor in this: “meeting expectations” for a WIG is really not the best way to reward someone who hit a really important goal – a goal where the department fails if it is not met. There is much about performance reviews that drives performance review ratings to “meeting expectations” – successful ratings that result in a large group of people getting the average salary and bonus so as to hit the compensation budget. WIG’s don’t nicely fit into that framework.
  • And, from an employee perspective, there are times where one needs to play career defense — in a troubled corporate environment, having more goals that drives you to a “meets expectation” rating would be the smart move compared to having two wildly important goals and missing them both – even though the miss would be better than meeting all the other “important” goals cascaded from upper management.

Yearly goals are changing — and that’s good for Wildly Important Goals

There is a growing body of evidence that yearly goals, while still prevalent in the vast majority of workplaces, aren’t that great, whether they are wildly important or not. The reason goes back to focus — focusing on a few (or many) goals is very difficult over the course of an entire year.

  • There is a reason there is the “set the goals and they get shoved into a drawer” meme out there — one year is too long of a time frame to focus
  • And…the business changes over the course of the year and the goals are no longer relevant.
  • Or your manager changes during the year and the goals now change or are no longer relevant (I’ve never had the same manager give me my annual performance review two years in a row my entire career, save for one manager).

The good news is that there is now a movement to focus on goals for the next three months. Quarterly goals that, while they could be a one-year goal at the end, are specific milestones that can be achieved in the quarter. Some companies have modified the goal delivery to a variable amount of time agreed upon by the manager and employee. And the 12-Week Year book has spawned a movement to chunk the goals into what can be done in the 12-weeks — because it raises the focus and importance of each week in achieving the goal.

That means those quarterly goals can now be wildly important because of the shorter time frame.

In my corporate world, I’ve only been able to operate with this type of goal one time and the experience was wonderful for all of the reasons I’ve listed above. I’m hoping with the changes in goal setting we’re now seeing along with the push for more quarterly goals that Wildly Important goals will return.

What’s Wildly Important in your life that needs to be done?

  • JASON GREEN says:

    Trying to think of some good WIG’s. I work in water and mold restoration. Any good ideas?

    • That’s far too broad to come up with a goal. Basically, though, look at what you are doing this year. Determine that if you don’t do X, the entire year will be a failure. That’s the Wildly Important Goal. “Eliminate the lead in Flint, MI water supply by March 1st 2016.”

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  • Scot Herrick says:

    Thanks, Stacey. I’m glad you found our home here on the web.

  • I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

    Stacey Derbinshire

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