Goals & Kill Criteria (Paradox #83)

Completing a goal that is no longer useful is a failure. Use kill criteria to trigger reevaluation of a goal because, once set, goals ignore changes in the landscape and don't always age well.

A red rectangle stop sign in the center of a road, mountains in the distance, green grass and rocks in the foreground
Goals & Kill Criteria, JLP

Setting goals provides us clarity by establishing a target, guidance for ranking our priorities, and a way to measure progress and outcomes. A goal can act as a rallying cry for our team, allowing us to embrace our commonalities while applying the strengths of our individual selves. Goals give us direction, purpose, and increase our sense of fulfillment when met. Goals shape our expectations, establish milestones, and allow us to gauge the level of effort required. They can assist us in resource planning and scheduling, they provide us justification to filter incoming requests. Goals help us stay focused and avoid distractions and less valuable work.

Goals, once set, ignore changes in the landscape, they don't always age well. Therefore goals should rarely be "set in stone". While we don't want constantly malleable goals, we do desire the ability to revisit them when needed. To establish when this condition exists we extend our goal setting practice to include kill criteria. We identify thresholds that, if surpassed, would require revisiting our established goal. This is a powerful and pragmatic way to validate that our goals remain scoped to our fluid, and ever-changing environments. By determining kill criteria at the onset, we avoid any emotional pressure to continue with a goal simply because we have already invested time and energy. We pre-agreed on when the goal would become invalidated and now we are following our established rules.

Often incentives are tied to goal completion, and this works well when the goals remain aligned with value creation. Too often we see others complete a goal simply because that is how they get paid and not because it's the best course of action. Incentives tied to goals should pay out when kill criteria are triggered or on the completion of the newly revised goal after a kill criteria forces an evaluation. Completing a goal that is no longer useful is a failure. When we end a goal because the kill criteria was triggered, this is a success — we wisely avoided future effort on a fruitless task.

The Paradox Pairs series is an exploration of the contradictory forces that surround us.  A deeper study finds that these forces often complement each other if we can learn to tap into the strength of each. See the entire series by using the Paradox Pairs Index.