Like many others, I enjoy an evening of bridge except when I don’t. It’s always a great way to exercise my strategic thinking muscles and spend time with friends. The problem is that I can’t fully control the outcome. Even when I’m wearing my “smart player” hat, lousy cards are a challenge. While true that a terrific hand is no guarantee of besting my opponents, it surely doesn’t hurt. To the contrary, it’s the aces and royals that make it possible to garner points. So every new round begins with fingers crossed, hoping for a visit from Lady Luck. What’s interesting is that my definition of winning varies as the night ages. The ultimate prize is the biggest number of points. In between the start and the end, the brass ring might take the form of a good supporting hand from my partner or a chance to avoid penalty points.

Business professionals face the same dilemma about how to define a win, a loss and an “okay” result. Get the metric wrong and an organization could lose clients or overpay a team member or both. In the investment world, an advisor, asset manager or other type of service provider has to ask whether it is more important to develop a large asset base or instead sell a certain product mix. Fiduciary considerations will typically guide the discussion about goal-setting, depending on the relationship between a seller and buyer. Other industries might consider a win if a new customer signs on the dotted line of a long-term contract even if the cost outweighs the benefits in the short run. Attracting a certain type of customer could constitute a win if it portends greater sales profitability from a coveted market segment. An example is the yearning by corporate advertisers to reach the 18 to 49 year old consumers thought to have deep pockets.

The next time you set out to plan your next twelve months, whether for personal or business reasons, ask yourself what winning looks like and how you know when you get there.

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