In Eliyahu Goldratt’s business-management novel The Goal, Alex Rogo manages a failing industrial plant in small-town U.S.A. As Alex fights to keep his plant in operation, his over-commitment to his career threatens to ruin his marriage and cost him his family. In short, Alex is overwhelmed by the number of problems facing him both at work and at home, and he struggles to know which problems to put his energy into solving. However, when a mentor encourages him to establish clear goals for himself, Alex discovers that he can see how each problem interlinks and can determine steps to overcome them. Alex’s struggle to protect both his manufacturing plant and his marriage thus demonstrates the importance of having clear goals in any endeavor.
In the beginning of the novel, Alex fails to manage the complex operations of his manufacturing plant or the emotional needs of his wife, Julie. This demonstrates how, without clear goals, both professional and personal endeavors can fall into disarray. As the novel opens, Alex’s manufacturing plant is failing: every client order they have is months behind schedule. The plant has warehouses of unsold merchandise and unused materials, and it sells old equipment at a loss just to clear space for newly-built but unsold products. This failure mystifies Alex: although the plant’s employees are highly capable and everyone works hard, the plant is always behind and has lost so much money that Alex’s division manager, Bill Peach, is threatening to shut it down entirely. At the same time, Alex’s marriage is fraying as well. Because he spends so much time at the plant, Julie feels completely neglected and angry that he doesn’t spend time with her or their kids. Alex constantly fails to keep his promises to his wife, and Julie eventually becomes so hurt that she moves out of their house and threatens to divorce him. In both his career and his personal life, Alex suffers from a lack of clear goals. He can sense that both his management of the plant and his relationship with his family are not working, but he does not know why, indicating that he has no clear vision of what his goal should be as a plant manager or as a husband. This demonstrates how, without clear goals, one’s endeavors tend to fall into chaos, since one cannot even recognize how they are failing to do what one should be doing.
As Alex determines the primary goals of both his manufacturing plant and his marriage, he discovers that his first assumptions of what those goals should be are usually wrong, suggesting that the proper goal for any endeavor may initially seem counterintuitive. When Alex reconnects with a former teacher, Jonah—who is now a business guru—Jonah challenges Alex to determine the singular, simplest goal of his manufacturing plant. Alex assumes that the goal of his manufacturing plant is just to manufacture goods. When Jonah refutes this, Alex falls back on corporate jargon such as increasing efficiency, keeping overhead costs as low as possible, or making customers satisfied. Jonah again tells Alex that he is missing the singular goal of any business, including a manufacturing plant, suggesting that whatever Alex’s proper goal may be, it is counterintuitive to the way Alex has been taught to think about his work. At the same time, while Alex tries to figure out why Julie is so upset with him, they fight over what the goal of their marriage to each other ought to be. At first, Julie thinks that their relationship shouldn’t have any goals; it’s just something that exists. Alex states that he thinks his goal should be to make lots of money so that Julie and their children can live well. This fails to placate Julie, indicating that whatever the goal of their relationship ought to be, it is counterintuitive—at least to Alex. When Alex does determine the main goal of his manufacturing plant (to make money), he realizes that it should have been obvious, except that it breaks with traditional business thinking. Alex quotes Mark Twain, saying, “Common sense is not so common at all,” suggesting that such goals are often straightforward but also counterintuitive to one’s first assumptions.
After Alex establishes clear goals for both his manufacturing plant and his marriage, he is able to take practical steps toward achieving those goals and managing his life better, demonstrating that proper goals are critical to success in any endeavor. When Alex realizes that his plant’s goal must always be to make money, he is able to simplify the way he looks at problems with its manufacturing process. Rather than getting distracted by concerns such as each worker’s individual output, fluctuating material costs, or new manufacturing technologies, Alex’s focus on this simple goal helps him decide which issues are truly important—in that they affect the plant’s total profit after expenses—and which issues are secondary concerns. Thus, he can devote his limited time to finding solutions for the essential problems. With this focus, Alex ultimately turns the manufacturing plant profitable again, demonstrating the critical role of clear, simple goals in any corporate endeavor. At the same time, when Alex realizes that the most important goal of his marriage is to spend time with Julie and share his life with her, he is able to take simple steps to achieve that goal. Alex starts taking Julie out on weekly dates and, though he remains busy, makes a point of sharing his feelings and frustrations about work with her as well, so that they can navigate those challenges together. As with his work, Alex’s goals for his relationship with Julie ultimately helps him to save their marriage, suggesting that clear and simple goals are the first step to success in any endeavor, whether in one’s career or in one’s personal life.
The Importance of Goal-Setting ThemeTracker
The Importance of Goal-Setting Quotes in The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement
Halfway to the city, the sun rises. By then, I’m too busy thinking to notice it at first. I glance to the side and it’s floating out there beyond the trees. What makes me mad sometimes is that I’m always running so hard that—like most other people, I guess—I don’t have time to pay attention to all the daily miracles going on around me. Instead of letting my eyes drink in the dawn, I’m watching the road and worrying about Peach.
“…consistent parameters…essential to gain…matrix of advantage…extensive pre-profit recovery…operational indices…provide tangential proof…”
I have no idea what’s going on. Their words sound like a different language to me—not a foreign language, exactly, but a language I once knew and only vaguely now recall. The terms seem familiar to me, but now I’m not sure what they really mean. They’re just words.
You’re just playing a lot of games with numbers and words.
Can I assume that making people work and making money are the same thing? We’ve tended to do that in the past. The basic rule has just been to keep everybody and everything out here working all the time; keep pushing that product out the door. And when there isn’t any work to do, make some. And when we can’t make them work, lay them off.
“Everything is for your job,” she says. “It’s all you think about. I can’t even count on you for dinner. And the kids are asking me why you’re like this—”
There is a tear forming in the corner of her eye. I reach to wipe it away, but she brushes my hand aside.
“No!” she says. Just go catch your plane to wherever it is you’re going.”
She walks past me.
“Julie, this is not fair!” I yell at her.
She turns to me.
“That’s right. You are not being fair. To me or to your children.”
“This much is clear to me. We have to change the way we think about production capacity. We cannot measure the capacity of a resource in isolation. Its true productive capacity depends upon where it is in the plant. And trying to level capacity with demand to minimize expenses has really screwed us up. We shouldn’t be trying to do that at all.”
“Alex, tell your children what’s bothering you,” my mother says, “It affects them too.”
I look at the kids and realize my mother’s right.
“Look, I’m convinced you did the right thing back there. Aren’t you?”
“Maybe I did the right thing,” [Bob] says, “but I had to break all the rules to do it.”
“I’m going to have Bob Donovan put together an I.E. to write up [your new] procedures formally, so we can start using them round the clock. […] You keep that mind of yours working. We need it.”
“But what are we supposed to do?” asks Bob. “If we don’t keep our people working, we’ll have idle time, and idle time will lower our efficiencies.”
“So what?” asks Jonah. […] “Take a look at the monster you’ve made. It did not create itself. You have created this mountain of inventory with your own decisions. And why? Because of the wrong assumption that you must make the workers produce 100 percent of the time, or else get rid of them to ‘save’ money.”
“I’m working.” I tell her.
“Can I help?” [Sharon] asks.
“Well…I don’t know,” I say. “It’s kind of technical. I think you’ll probably be bored by it.”
“Oh,” she says. “does that mean you want me to leave?”
“No, not if you want to stay,” I tell her. “Do you want to try to solve a problem?”
“Okay,” she says, brightening.
“If we don’t go ahead with a system to withhold inventory and release it according to the bottlenecks, we’ll be missing a major opportunity to improve performance and save the plant. And I’m not about to stand by and let that happen just to maintain a standard that obviously has more impact on middle management politics than it does on the bottom line. I say we go ahead with this. And if efficiencies drop, let them.”
“It’s perfectly okay to have more setups on non-bottlenecks, because all we’re doing is cutting into time the machines would spend being idle. Saving setups at a non-bottleneck doesn’t make the system one bit more productive.”
Living and breathing within range of my sight are 30,000 people who have no idea that one small but important part of the town’s economic future will be decided tomorrow. Most of them haven’t the slightest interest in the plant or what we’ve done here—except if UniWare closes us, they’ll be mad and scared. And if we stay open? Nobody will care. Nobody will even know what we went through.
I start to speak, but Hilton Smyth raises his voice and talks over me.
“The fact of the matter is that your cost-of-products measurements increased,” says Hilton. “And when costs go up, profits have to go down. It’s that simple. And that’s the basis of what I’ll be putting into my report to Bill Peach.”
“Hilton, this morning I asked you to sit in for me because we were meeting with Granby. Two months from now the three of us are moving up the ladder, to head the group. Granby left it to us to decide who will be the next manager of the division. I think that the three of us have decided. Congratulations Alex; you will be the one to replace me.”
“Everywhere, improvement was interpreted as almost synonymous to cost savings. People are concentrating on reducing operating expenses as if it’s the most important measurement.”
“Not even that,” Bob interrupts. “We were busy reducing costs that didn’t have any impact on reducing operating expenses.”
“Correct,” Lou continues. “But the important thing is that we, in our plant, have switched to regard throughput as the most important measurement. Improvement for us is not so much to reduce costs but to increase throughput.”
“Things start to be connected to each other. Things that we never thought were related start to be strongly connected to each other. One single common cause is the reason for a very large spectrum of different effects. You know Julie, it’s like order is built out of chaos. What can be more beautiful than that?”