Burgers, Discipline and Wildly Important Goals

I’ve had the opportunity to eat at In-N-Out Burger a couple of times in the last month or so.  We don’t have an In-N-Out here in Kansas City, so it’s a treat when I happen to be traveling somewhere that does have one.  I mentioned this to someone the other day and they had the same reaction – it’s a destination worthy type of restaurant if you love a great burger.

Which got me to thinking – why is In-N-Out so good?  I’m sure the company would tell you all sorts of reasons – like the freshness of the beef, or their special seasonings and ‘secret sauce’ (try the fries ‘Animal Style’ next time you’re there…).  But ultimately, I believe their success is due to simplicity and focus.  They identified a few things they are really good at and that’s all they do.  They don’t make salads, or chicken, or lots of side dishes or appetizers. They serve burgers and fries… and they do it really well!


Wildly Important Goals…

Contrast that with the approach that a lot of business owners take regarding their business, especially planning.  I talked with a business owner last week who is starting to think about next year’s planning and here was his initial ‘short list’ of things he wanted to work on in the next year:

  • Improving profitability
  • Documentation – processes, procedures, handbooks, etc.
  • Implementing training
  • Upgrading the staff
  • Better marketing
  • Launching a new service
  • Relocating to a bigger space

And that was before he’d really had time to think about things…

Not only are these potential goals incredibly high level and vague, but there’s no way for ANY organization to succeed with that many priorities.  Maybe they should instead consider taking a page from In-N-Out and narrow the focus down to what’s really important.




Just kidding – you have to figure out what’s wildly important to you right now.

What’s going to move the needle the most in the next year?  Try asking the following question:

“If every other area of our operations remained at the current level of performance, what is the one area where change would have the greatest impact?”

There may be a really obvious answer for you, but even if there’s not, the most important thing here is to make a choice and to narrow down the field of options.  The authors of the book The 4 Disciplines of Execution studied thousands of businesses and they discovered a very strong inverse relationship in the success of achieving goals with excellence when compared to the number of goals that were worked on.

As you can see – the number of goals achieved with excellence drops off substantially once you start working on more than 2 or 3 at a time.  That’s why it’s so important to figure out what your ‘MOST’ important goals really are – and then only focus on those goals.



A couple of months ago, I wrote about the importance of discipline and how Discipline = Freedom. The hardest part of achieving goals with excellence – especially for an entrepreneur or business owner – is having the discipline to narrow the focus down to just 2 or 3 achievable, tangible, measurable goals for a given time-period.

As an entrepreneur, your instinct is to always say yes and to constantly be looking for more things you could improve (or add).  Those can be admirable traits, but the data (and experience) shows that in this case, less is more.

That’s where discipline comes in.  You must force the team into a narrow focus and then you’ve got to keep them there until they deliver.  You will get distracted. There will be shiny objects and Squirrels – but you have to stay the course.

Here are a few ideas that might help you:

Make it a team effort – have the team work with you on priorities and especially on the tactics for delivering on the goal.  Collectively it will be easier for everyone to stay focused if you all start on the same page.

Make it measurable along the way – for the same reason that we keep score during sporting events, you must keep score as you drive towards delivering on your goal.  Not everything lends itself to easy measurement, but as much as possible, find a way to keep score and make sure you know if you’re winning or not.

Keep it short – People tend to focus on 90-day windows of time. Much longer than that and it’s too easy to procrastinate, much shorter than that and things become an emergency.  Your goal may take longer than 90 days to achieve but look for ways to break it up into smaller pieces so you can keep the focus.

Make it meaningful – why should the team care if you hit the goal?  Find a way to make it a win for everyone and then be sure to celebrate those wins along the way.


How focused are you and your team when it comes to how you spend your time?  Are you just working on day-to-day business or are you also working on some important goals?  Are you trying to do too much?   Or can you be more like In-N-Out? Have you tried narrowing the focus to 2 or 3 Wildly Important Goals?  Is that working for you?  We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Shawn Kinkade   Kansas City Business Coach