The passing of Gene Cernan a couple of weeks ago brought back to me the sheer greatness of the Apollo program.
In 1961, American president John Fitzgerald Kennedy announces that he ambitions for the USA to fly a man to the moon and back before then end of the decade. At that time, America had not even managed to put a man in orbit, and only one American had technically been in space, and only for a few minutes. As motivating as such an ambition might be, it seemed extremely far from the tiny capabilities of the space program as it was.
One can expect various reactions ranging from incredulity to broad enthusiasm. Yet even the latter needs at least one more ingredient for men and women to carry the project through successfully.
When managing teams, we want and need to achieve dream objectives as well. And although not as breath taking as the sight of a man walking on the moon, reaching these targets make a big difference, especially for those involved in achieving them.
But the skepticism or even the over-enthusiasm can hamper the achievement of dream objectives. There are some ingredients that have to be part of the plan.
A dream objective has a challenging yet easily understandable finish line
People need to be able to focus on what constitutes the finishing line. This should not be like running on a treadmill without a watch and km counter, but a fixed line to cross. Kennedy had stated the finishing line: it was to put a man on the moon and to bring him back.
A dream objective is something rare, big and something clear.
An ambition too small misses the capacity to generate enthusiasm. If an objective seems easy, then it´s just another day at the office. It´s not changing the world, it´s changing the settings. Only crossing a real finish line that required work and dedication can deliver the satisfaction of a job well done and personal barriers having been breached.
Imagine if JFK had only set a goal of going to orbit and launching some probe to monitor space data…No, the moon was big, the moon was simple, the moon was something you get on your feet for.
A dream objective needs little win´s on the way.
Going from a 15-minute flight on a cannonball trajectory to a controlled flight to the moon does not happen without stages.
This is probably the most overlooked ingredient of success, and yet an ingredient that can reconcile the sceptics and the over-enthusiasts. The first see the objective too far away, the others sometimes cannot figure out how to get there and lose motivation along the way.
In the Apollo project, thousands of people combining a vast array of skills (sometimes too much as the Apollo program was very difficult to manage) started to evaluate what separated them from achieving the objective, and sketching out the sub-projects that needed to be undertaken for all of it to come together: making a powerful rocket, mastering orbital flight, designing the craft to land on the moon, learn to fly it learn to dock in space, and of course calculate required trajectories, approach modes and speeds. And much more.
Each of these project step stones are win´s. The sceptics see that when looking at the concrete steps, the project becomes more realistic, and the over-enthusiastic see that the finish line is closing, and that their energy is not lost.
A dream objective is an ambitious goal made into a dream
I know, in companies, the objectives are not always as shiny and magical as going to the moon. Yet it is essential to always point out the difference crossing the finish line will make.
What can be considered a „bean counter“ objective can be understood as an ambition to make the organization stronger and capable of providing better jobs and further opportunities fr those involved.
It should also be said that everyone should be involved and invited to join just for the sake of individual growth and accomplishment. There can be no motivation if a dream objective does not fit in the personal plan of each and every participant. It´s the manager´s job to make it fit and to deliver to the participant the prospect of being a winner as an individual and not only through the collective.
A dream objective gets people on their feet, and the realization of it will deliver self-confidence, pride and a sense of fulfillment to all. A gift really. If you did not receive dream objectives from your own management…make your own.