What is Assumptive Goal Setting? Tips & Tools To Set Effective Goals

Coach Mike
Post by Coach Mike
What is Assumptive Goal Setting? Tips & Tools To Set Effective Goals

Why do we use Assumptive Goal Setting?

Goal-setting already seems to be complicated! With SMART goal-setting techniques and other ones out there, there is a lot to think about. In order to generate SMART goals, it helps to have a clear picture of the future. This is where Assumptive Goal Setting comes into play in that it addresses the two most common mistakes in goal- setting: 1) You cannot compare the present to the future. You must compare future to future. 2) Anchoring future goals to contemporary realities will only result in marginal improvements, not revolutionary leaps.

Goal-setting is the process of committing to future actions that will positively define future events, and is a key trait in Leadership Theory. If there is a gap between today’s reality and a desired future outcome, then that is the result of planning (or lack of planning) that has already happened. That window for planning to change today’s state is already over. So comparing today’s state to the future is not an effective use of time. Presumptive goal-setting addresses this by asking the question, “What is the difference between two future scenarios: one in which I execute on Plan A and one in which I execute on Plan B?"

Imagine my goal-setting revolves around fitness and my desired future outcome is to be able to complete 20 pushups in two minutes by May 31. In order to determine whether or not I should alter my current plan, I should not compare the amount of pushups I can do today with 20. Instead, I should project out into the future the amount of pushups I will be able to do on May 31 implementing my current plan versus implementing a new plan. Perhaps I am already on track to complete 20 pushups in a row by May 31. If that’s the case, I do not need to deviate from my current course of action.

You might ask yourself, "But isn’t my current state equal to my future state if there’s no change?” In order to answer this question, imagine a boat captain navigating his/her vessel. To get from the point where the boat currently is to the destination certainly requires a plan. The boat though, is already moving in a certain direction. There is already motion, both of the boat and of the tides and waves. The motion and force of the boat is already carrying the captain in a certain direction, so the question is less, “What do I need to do to get from here to my destination?” but rather, “How must I adjust my course to get to my destination?” This second question reflects the understanding that if the captain does nothing, the boat will continue along its current trajectory and some time in the future, arrive at a destination that is not desired.

If the goal-setting process is the captain steering the ship with the rudder and how quickly you arrive at your goals is a function of how the crew trims the sails, another reality must also be acknowledged: time does not stop and the boat is always moving one way or another. In life as in goal-setting, we do not have the luxury to completely stop the world and make new plans - time keeps moving, so the moment a plan is created based on present realities it becomes obsolete. Always compare future outcomes to each other.


How to set Assumptive Goals:

The process of Assumptive Goal setting takes on three key stages:

  1. Project the desired future outcome

  2. Establish the future outcome if the status quo remains

  3. Compare the two, reconcile the differences, and create an action plan accordingly (This is known as ‘Gap Analysis’).


Project the desired future outcome

We begin with establishing the desired future outcome to overcome both classic challenges with goal-setting: not comparing future to future and only creating marginal improvements without giving ourselves the opportunity to create a larger change. In this step, we are NOT thinking about how the problem will be solved, but simply answering the question: In our dream, when [certain date] arrives, where will we be?

This of course requires a degree of speculation. “In the future, what will the preferences of our customers be? In the future, what will the competitive landscape look like? In the future, what will our customers want from us?”


Establish the future outcome if the status quo remains

Once this is established, the next step is to identify what the future looks like if no changes are made to the action plan. We answer the question: If nothing changes, when [certain date] arrives, where will we be?

To complete this step, we can simply list present organizational capabilities, projects, and current pipeline of opportunities that are within the scope of a near-term action plan.


Finally, Gap Analysis

Then, we compare and reconcile the differences between the two, answering the question: What does it take to get from here [current future outcome] to my destination [desired future outcome]? The answer to this question may take many forms, including, “What do we need to do more of? What do we need to do less of? What do we need to do at all? Can we do that currently? What capabilities does our organization need to invest in now to enable the realization of the desired future outcome?” It is at this point that the planning process and tactical plans can be implemented.


An example of the entire process might look something like this for a group of debaters looking to start a debate program at their school:


Q: "In our dream, when 2025 arrives, where will we be?”

A: Our debate program will have successfully grown by 25 members, have won at least 3 major competitive debate titles, and be recognised on the national debate circuit.


Q: "If nothing changes, when 2025 arrive, where will we be?”

A: The debate program will still consist of only its founding members, have no competitive successes, and not yet recognised by our school as an official club.


"What does it take to get from here [current future outcome] to there [desired future outcome]?” Answering this question is known as Gap Analysis. Each of the initiatives highlighted below serves to ‘close the gap’ between the two future outcomes, the current future outcome and the desired future outcome.

This Gap Analysis can lead to the generation of SMART goals, which in turn leads to Action Plans.


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Coach Mike
Post by Coach Mike