There is a raging debate about whether big goal setting actually works.
For many years now we have been encouraged to set big goals – audacious goals like tripling our income or retiring by the time we hit 30.
The thinking goes that by setting big goals we will improve our motivation and enhance our performance.
Big goals involve taking big risks
One of my clients made his largest annual goal tripling the business income. He worked day and night seeking out new opportunities, refining his business offerings, investing in new assets and pushing himself and his business to the limit.
About 9 months later the effort paid off – he won a highly lucrative contract.
A few months after he had secured the contract I asked him if achieving the big goals had in fact satisfied him in the way he thought it would.
He said it had not.
As his effort had been so focused on increasing his income he had paid little attention to readying his business to deliver the services. As a result he had to employ more staff and his profit margin was very low.
He was feeling burnt out and had risked everything including the family home – this made him feel constantly stressed.
Adam Galinsky, a professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and one of the authors of a Harvard Business School report called Goals Gone Wild argues that big goal setting can focus attention too much or on the wrong things and can lead people to participate in extreme behaviors to achieve the goals.
The interesting fact is that big goals are likely to be pursued by those businesses that can least afford the risks associated with them.
Every business owner or people manager I work with has an idea of the strategy they need to pursue to achieve success.
When it comes to putting that strategic vision into action, then it’s the tactics not the strategy that deliver the outcomes.
As part of the culture change work I do with businesses we set goals. The difference is that we set goals are focused the tactics of small wins and improvements.
I encourage my clients to set small goals that are easily attainable for themselves and their people to achieve. Instead of a 10% uplift in sales within 12 months, we’ll focus on an uplift of sales of 1% per month.
Instead of setting 12 month goals, I suggest setting 3 month and 6 month goals that are built around picking the “low hanging fruit”.
In one business this meant a 3 month goal of simply having staff smile and greet every customer. With another this meant perfecting the stock take over a 6 months. In my own small business we simply focused on getting the wage costs down by 1% every month for 4 months.
This doesn’t mean that all the other important tasks are lost, it does mean that a long term view is taken.
When we start with the foundational small wins we introduced the next layer of changes in the next time period. It’s a never ending work in progress.
We can often get to so focused on the outcome that the goal will give us, that we loose sight of the process that will get us there.
Like my client that tripled his income, the goal was attained and the outcome achieved. But, the internal processes that underpinned the business performance did not support the goal and impacted on the outcome.
Refocusing our attention on improving our internal processes and practices provides us with the right foundations to grow our business. This has the added benefit of removing obstacles for our people and to our growth.
We also move from measuring success through outcomes to improving the processes by which the outcomes are achieved.
It can be a simple as reviewing your administration requirements, are you holding performance back through your own red tape? Or thinking about your recruitment practices and examining if you are putting enough time and attention into finding the right person instead of wasting all the time that goes into a rushed hire.
By setting smaller goals and paying attention to improving your processes and practices you can better motivate your self and others.
There is nothing more satisfying than being able to cross a task off a to do list or overcoming a persistent problem – that satisfied feeling comes from a sense of progress.
Over the next few months we will all be bombarded with messages to set our goals for 2016, to forget what we did not achieve in 2015, to make 2016 make it our best year ever!
From where I stand, we all need to turn our attention inwards, slowing the achievement wheels down enough to get to December 2016 having experienced real sustainable change that will set us up for the long term.
All the best
Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible Tony Robbins