How Timelines Move Goal Lines
In the corporate environment, setting goals is considered to be essential in managing a business, a project, and daily life, but few people really understand and use goals effectively. The issue is not that some people are not “goal-oriented” and others are. The real issue is how differently people view the idea itself. The ways different types create and use goals and the ways they define “goals” are dramatically influenced by their natural type preferences and are directly related to the time orientation of their preferred information-gathering mode.
The cultural norm for setting and managing goals assumes there is a “right way” and a “wrong way.” We often discuss goals in the context of “Judging vs. Perceiving Types.” For example, methods like SMART goals tout that goals should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound (Doran, 1981). While this seems like a reasonable approach to many, it does not accommodate the need to maintain an exploratory approach that many types require in order to stay engaged with their goals. The SMART goals system tends to favor the natural tendencies of STJ types.
While the Judging functions do influence how we pursue, record, and celebrate goals, before any action toward a goal is taken, the Perceiving functions influence how we think and talk about goals. Goal setting boils down to how different types orient to time. Everyone can be physically present in the moment, but how people are mentally present varies considerably depending on their preferences for gathering information (Sensing or Intuition). People who prefer Sensing tend to be either past- or present-oriented; those who prefer Intuition tend to be either future- or distant future-oriented (refer to chart below). I call those who prefer introverted sensation (Si) Sustainers; they tend to be past-oriented. Those who prefer extraverted sensation (Se) tend to be present-oriented, and I call them Responders. Those who prefer extraverted intuition (Ne) tend to be future-oriented, and I use the term Inspirers for them. The introverted intuitives (Ni) tend to be oriented toward the distant future; therefore, I call them Visionaries (Read, 2014).
Sustainers, Introverted Sensing Types (dominant or auxiliary Si) tend to have a past orientation and to perceive new information and experiences through their senses and compare them to past experiences. Verifying through comparison is a way to confirm that the present information or event is actually new and real. The past is personal and infinite and can often be recalled with great clarity. While Sustainers are physically present and engaged in a conversation, their minds are busy comparing and contrasting their current experience to past experiences—this is how they orient themselves in time and experience the present. Sustainers tend to write goals that resemble long tasks lists and often participate in the process by gathering the specifications for success, creating frameworks for achievement, and gathering the required resources. Sustainers tend to focus on what is practical and achievable; they may express doubt if a goal or project seems to be wasteful or unproven and can sound like naysayers when they question the feasibility of a project or goal. They often can write well-developed and practically sound one-year action plans and are likely to track progress on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Once the process extends beyond a year into the future, however, Sustainers tend to get more uncomfortable and become less confident that they have enough information to accurately anticipate the future. The personality types of Sustainers (ISTJ, ESTJ, ISFJ, ESFJ) tend to bring a managing or administering energy to their leadership and work style.
Responders, Extraverted Sensing Types (dominant or auxiliary Se) tend to have a present time orientation and perceive each moment as a fresh new experience in real time. The verification for Responders comes from touching, smelling, hearing, tasting, and seeing the information. Since so much is actually perceived in the moment, Responders tend not to have a lot of energy for reflecting on the past or planning for the future. If Responders write goals at all, they tend to be comfortable planning about two to three months into the future. Planning past three months in any significant way seems pointless for most Responders because too many variables must be accounted for. Experience tells them that once a plan is finally implemented, so many aspects have already changed since the plan was developed that spending time developing longer range plans and goals is likely to be a waste of time. Responders can sometimes appear very goal-oriented because they often stay in perpetual motion, especially dominant Se types (ESTP & ESFP), and eventually all that action moves projects forward, and projects come to completion. They tend to push for taking action because they know they can figure out what is next by experiencing the project while in process; thus they can appear to others as bored or disengaged in the conversation. The personality types that prefer Se (ISTP, ESTP, ISFP, ESFP) tend to bring a responsive and immediate energy to their leadership and work styles.
Inspirers, Extraverted Intuiting Types (dominant or auxiliary Ne) tend to have a future orientation. They tend to perceive new information and experiences through their impressions and inspirations, and they imagine many possible ways this data could be used in the future. Inspirers are active in discussions, suggesting new ideas and new ways to use current information. If only a few options are presented, the Inspirers will be the first to offer more options; it is through the process of considering options that they begin to understand what is feasible. They tend to create lists of ideas or mind-maps of many possibilities that could happen in the future, based on the current conversation. They tend to bounce between the present moment and many possible future moments almost simultaneously; this fluidity in time can cause others to see them as being scattered or spread too thinly. Their plans tend to have loose timelines, include multiple options, and be subject to change without much notice to others. The possibilities may be in a list form, but Inspirers often embrace unconventional methods of reporting goals and plans. Their goals tend to become more and more general the further into the future they reach. Beyond two to three years, most Inspirers lose their enthusiasm for committing to goals because they know there are too many yet-to-be-discovered variables to be any more specific and it feels like they are limiting their options by writing them. The types that prefer Ne (INTP, ENTP, INFP, ENFP) bring an inspiring, facilitative, and flexible energy to their leadership style.
Visionaries, Introverted Intuiting Types (dominant or auxiliary Ni) tend to have a distant future orientation. Visionaries tend to perceive new information and experiences through their insights and impressions and use this filter to develop or verify various theories about the nature of environments, organizations, and people. While visionaries are physically present, their minds are partially engaged with the future and developing plans for how the current information could be applied to a project or theory later on. The future is actually infinite for them. They tend to create grand plans that reach five to ten years into the future and are often considered “strategic planners.” Visionaries seem to have an ability to “see into the future” and return with fully-formed ideas. By definition, however, strategies do not include highly detailed implementation plans; they are usually filled with big ideas, broad-stroke action items, milestones, and measurements for success. As a result, Visionaries tend to create goals that skip over many specific details and focus on the desired end result or vision. They may even use symbols that embody the ideal of the goal or speak in themes about the goal. This can appear as unrealistic and out of touch with the current realities of the organization or group. After creating the grand vision, they tend to move confidently into the future, knowing that the resources needed to achieve the vision will somehow appear when needed. The types that prefer Ni (INTJ, ENTJ, INFJ, ENFJ) tend to bring a predictive, visionary, and aspirational energy to their leadership and work style.
When developing goals as part of a team, each of these cognitive functions can be accessed through the strengths of individual team members. Participants may start at any point in the time line, depending on the norm of the group, so long as they visit all the stations of the process. The challenge usually arises when the person leading the discussion and planning process ignores one or more of the processes.
Leading the Process with Introverted Sensation:
Stewart (ISTJ—Si, Te), operations manager of a utility company, is most comfortable with projects that allow for careful planning. In leading the installation of a major new pipeline, he started by checking the precedents and verifying that the new construction project complied with the necessary regulatory systems. Next he checked for available resources and staffing to ensure safety. Before launching, he brought the project to Kiki (ENFP—Ne, Fi), the right-of-way manager, who considered all the potential challenges with property owners and local ordinances. She negotiated the permits and brought Stewart the appropriate documentation. During management team meetings, when Stewart gave status updates on the project, Jon (INFJ—Ni, Fe), the vice president of operations, asked about how this project fit into the overall strategy for coverage in that part of the state. This set Stewart back for a moment while he recalled the initial work order, and that helped him remember how it fit into the bigger plan. By the time Stewart brought the project to his team, he had already developed an implementation plan, had all the permitting in place, and simply needed to delegate the project to Jed (ESTP—Se, Ti), the supervisor of field services. When the project was live in the field, the supervisor of field services stayed on the front line with his crew members, and together they problem-solved various issues that popped up when they hit unexpected obstacles. When a public relations issue arose during the project, the communications manager, Betty (ESTP), responded with press releases and immediately arranged for Bill (ENTJ—Te, Ni), the CEO, to talk to the media and reassure everyone that the project was on track and that there was nothing to be concerned about.
Why this process worked for Stewart: He was given the opportunity to ensure that the safety, regulatory, and inventory details were in place before handing it off to the field supervisor. In addition, he had a long-standing relationship with the right-of-way-manager and knew from experience that she was reliable. With this solid base, he was able to give senior management the information they needed.
If a Sustainer does not know ahead of time that a detailed plan will result from the process, he or she may not fully participate. To help Sustainers stay engaged, they need reassurance that before any action starts, there will be time to develop a detailed implementation plan, and leaders must allocate time and resources to make sure that commitment is met. Sustainers need paper, project management software, or other tools for making lists, drawing diagrams, or tracking progress so they can quietly give their attention to factual accuracy (or its lack) while sitting at the table. A Sustainer who does not see the practical feasibility of a project will not want to participate in the implementation. Sustainers ensure consistency with financial and other resources that if not considered, could derail a project.
Leading the Process with Extraverted Sensation:
Cory (ISFP—Fi, Se), production manager at a printing firm, is most comfortable with projects that have shorter deadlines. When beginning a printing job for a regular customer, he started by getting his hands on the materials needed for the print project. When the customer order came through the system from his manager Sonny (INTP—Ti, Ne), it already had all the color, paper, dimension, and quantity specifications. After fitting it into the schedule and starting the job, Corey realized that the paper was causing a jam in the press. He quickly stopped the press, cleaned out the jam, found another paper that would fit the specs, and restarted the project. When Carla (ESFJ—Fe, Si), the purchasing manager, challenged Cory on this choice, Cory was able to show her that the replacement paper was the same weight and price so the customer would be satisfied.
Why this process worked for Cory: He was intimate with the materials and how they interact with the machinery, and he understood the desired end result. In the process of completing the project, he was able to respond quickly to the breakdown and still provide the customer with a quality product.
If a Responder does not get to be in action relatively soon in the process, he or she may express boredom and could become disruptive. To help Responders participate in the process, leaders should identify some actions that could be taken early in the process and allow for the Responders to get physically engaged. Responders need time to move around, as a group or individually, so their managers could consider including movement as an essential part of discussing and creating the plan. Providing quiet manipulatives like stress balls, colored markers and paper play dough, and pipe cleaners on the table at the meeting gives Responders an outlet for their energy, and helps them stay engaged in the meeting. Additionally, giving a Responder the job of scribe, the person who records a brainstorm or other information on the white board, is a good use of their energy. (Note: the roles of scribe and note-taker are different, even though these two roles are conflated in meetings. The note-taker takes the minutes, including decisions reached by a team, and distributes them in the form of a report.) Identifying an early action for Responders to take, e.g., to test-drive an idea with the customer, allows them to contribute their strengths of refining an idea to make it feasible in the real world.
Leading the Process with Extraverted Intuition:
Joe (ENTP—Ne, Ti), an entrepreneurial leader of a small digital marketing firm, is most comfortable starting every new project with a good brainstorming session. When presenting a new project to his team, he first discussed all the options that he had discussed with the client, added a few more, and asked for suggestions. His diverse team freely asked questions and commented to get the clarification needed to take action. Jeremy (ISTJ—Si, Te), a programmer, often reminded the team how the current project was similar to another project the firm had already completed, and he looked for ways to reuse parts and pieces in the new project. He also thought about the available resources and suggested that they pull in a subcontractor for specific parts to ensure that other projects would not suffer. Jen (ISTP—Ti, Se), another programmer, tended to want to start by writing code, so she asked about the specific features the client wanted included in the website. She also tended to start drafting the flow for the features to help others see what they look like. And Jill (ENFJ—Fe, Ni), operations and project manager, pulled up the master calendar for the company and wanted to know the deadline so she could create the milestone markers and keep the project on track alongside all the other projects already in process.
Why this process worked for Joe: He was the first contact with the client and was able to explore many possibilities before bringing it to his team. And although his team did not enjoy the brainstorming process as much as he did, Joe respected them and appreciated that they were key to fleshing out the project and delivering a quality product to the client.
If an Inspirer is not provided with multiple options or the ability to generate possibilities, he or she may disengage. To support an Inspirer in participating, a leader could start with some time-limited brainstorming. Additionally, posting a piece of flip-chart paper on the wall creates a “parking lot” for good ideas that may not fit into the current conversation. Inspirers will likely reopen points of discussion and even reconsider “the plan” during implementation; this can be an opportunity to check the plan for further fine tuning. This revisiting does not have to derail projects; it often enhances the outcome by providing continual process improvements. A stifled Inspirer will brainstorm with or without the group, creating a back-channel of ideas. Including brainstorming early ensures that the best option is selected, as opposed to the first or easiest, and enables Inspirers to participate in the creation process.
Leading the Process with Introverted Intuition:
Software company business owner Jay (INFJ—Ni, Fe) is most comfortable when he is able to create a long-term vision. When Jay was feeling burdened by the daily management of his company, he realized he needed to delegate some responsibilities in order for the company to reach its potential. At that time, he had about 20 employees and was about to grow by 5 to 10 more people within the next year. He started by recognizing he needed to create a management team. After assessing the strengths of his current staff, he implemented his plan. He trusted and relied upon Bob (ESTP—Se, Ti), the software manager who had been with the company since the beginning, and promoted him to be in charge of product development. Bob’s strength was being able to translate Jay’s ideas and the real-time customer feedback into practical solutions. Bob also had a loyal team of programmers who were already performing well. Jay then promoted Jenny (ESTJ—Te, Si), the long-time office manager, to operations manager. Jenny started as the receptionist and knew every aspect of the company. Her institutional knowledge and commitment to efficient operations proved to be a great asset as the company added staff and moved into a larger office. Next Jay looked at the installation team and promoted Maura (INTP—Ti, Ne) to the position of team leader. She was relatively new to the company but had already proven her competency in problem-solving issues at client sites. Her calm demeanor and ability to create unexpected solutions seemed to impress clients. Finally, Jay developed job descriptions for roles he wanted to fill from external candidates. He hired Jake (INTJ—Ni, Te) as director of marketing to partner with Jay in visualizing the future of the company and help him devise a strategic plan. And finally, Jay hired Jahil (ENFP—Ne, Fi) as the customer service manager. Jahil was able to quickly bring the various customer service representatives into a team and greatly improved client satisfaction.
Why this process worked for Jay: He lifted his head above the daily tasks and connected with the vision of his company growing and prospering. He was then able to take the time and be patient with the process of growth because he kept his eye on the long-term goal.
If a Visionary does not know what the desired result is, he or she may withdraw from the conversation. To support a Visionary in staying engaged, a leader needs to allow time early in the process to imagine how the current situation, issue, or challenge could be different in the future. Visionary individuals need time to write or draw their insights and share them either in small discussion or in a very abbreviated form in the larger group. Being clear about the intent of a meeting or conversation—even if that intent is to explore possible solutions to an issue without actually coming to a conclusion—also helps Visionaries be more comfortable within that context. A Visionary without a compelling idea for the future will daydream the meeting away. Visionaries can envision and clarify the objective if they are invited to and are given the time to contemplate and articulate it, and they can often see the best route forward.
Successful development and implementation of goals requires groups to engage in all four perceiving functions. Everyone is capable of flexing into all four ways of operating throughout the day. Individuals tend to start with their most preferred mode and then access the others according to the natural type dynamics of the individual’s personality type. This may result in a less graceful and even awkward expression of the information-gathering cognitive processes, depending on how high up in consciousness they are for the individual, but that is generally a good thing: it means that team members are flexing out of their comfort zones.
When writing goals or creating strategies, keeping personality type in mind can help access the natural powers of the group and overcome the natural blind spots. The process needs to start with strengths and then build skills in weaker areas by leaning into the natural abilities of co-workers, colleagues, and associates. Goals can be used as guidelines and mile-markers; they do not have to be thought of as laws written in stone. There is no right way of writing and using goals. Experimentation to find what is effective for the situation and the people involved is the best approach.
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