The Problem with Goal Setting
How to set goals that make a difference
I’ve got a big goal:
“In January 2024, I am delivering a talk to a global audience at a TED conference in either the USA or the UK, about Small Business, Overwhelm, Fun in Business and the Business Growth myth.”
I committed to this Goal a few months ago and let me tell you, as Goals go, it’s a big one. To achieve it I have to not only step outside my comfort zone, I have to shut the door behind me and stay there.
Until now I haven’t set many Goals for myself, and that may sound odd for someone who calls himself a business coach. Business coaches are supposed to be all about Goal setting and accountability.
And that is true, but most Goal setting operates from a flawed premise.
You see, the typical approach to goal setting goes something like this: Visualise what you really want to achieve and make it as real and concrete and measurable as possible and then create a plan to achieving that thing… And Bob’s your uncle.
There are three things wrong with that approach:
1. The world changes all the time.
2. You change all the time
3. And most of the Goals we set through that process are actually not very inspiring.
Let me explain:
Common examples of Goals are: “We’ve doubled our revenue” or “We’ve made $250,000 net profit” or “I can afford to buy myself that Mercedes I’ve always wanted” or “I’m taking the family on a holiday to (insert tropical island resort)”.
Lovely Goals, wouldn’t you agree?
Sadly though, none of those goals are likely to have much impact on your business or your life.
Here is the problem:
Traditional Goal setting in business is crystal ball gazing. A Goal along the lines of: “100% profit growth in 2014” makes all sorts of assumptions about what 2014 might look like and about what your life might look like in 2014. It may be that the world economy dives back into a GFC type of crisis next year and a great achievement might simply be to survive. Alternatively the economy may experience a boom of some sort and doubling profit growth will hardly be much of an achievement.
And you yourself of course are even more likely to undergo change over the course of a year. The circumstances of your life can change radically, your health can change, you might fall in love or have babies. Any number of things can come up during a year and change what’s possible, desirable or important.
I worked with a client some years ago who owned a design agency, let’s call him Aaron. We worked together for a period of 9 months covering the last three quarters of the financial year. When we started work, Aaron decided that he wanted the business to grow 20% in the year, make $150,000 net profit, grow from employing 5 to 7 designers, move to a new office, pay himself 25% more salary, and sign a contract with a big financial institution.
A few months in I started noticing that Aaron was losing his usual enthusiasm and I checked in with him about that. It turned out that Aaron was getting worried that his goal wasn’t going to be achieved, because parts of his Goal turned out to be much more challenging that he had imagined. Specifically, the company was currently on track to only make $100,000 net profit.
Also, the more time Aaron spent looking into opportunities with the big institutions, the less excited he was feeling about working with them. While on the other hand, Aaron’s business had recently landed a job with a mid-size engineering firm and the early signs were that this was exactly the kind of client, Aaron and his team enjoyed working with.
Yet Aaron was down on himself for not being able to stick to his Goal.
I explained to Aaron that the thing to understand about committing to a Goal is that it is designed on the basis of information we have available at the time we create the Goal. If it turns out later that the information was flawed in some way, it makes sense to adjust the Goal in line with the new information.
For Aaron to continue to chase contracts with big banks when he’d come to the conclusion that there were better opportunities available elsewhere would be stupid.
Churchill is reported to have replied when he was accused of changing his mind:
“Yes, I do that when I find I’m wrong… What do you do?”
Maybe Aaron needed to explore the engineering industry further instead of the big finance world, and maybe, feeling frustrated about making $100,000 profit instead of $150,000 was not all that useful either.
No more firm Goals?
Does that mean that we shouldn’t have firm Goals anymore? On the contrary. Well framed firmly defined Goals can be an enormous help to staying out of Overwhelm and into having more Fun in business and building a business that sustains you for years to come. However a Goal to make $150,000 profit, will not motivate you. It might sound exciting, but it is an arbitrary number and whether you make $100K or $150K is not interesting to your brain, especially not your sub-conscious brain.
Out of your comfort zone
The only truly motivating Goal, a Goal that pushes you out of your comfort zone and keeps you there, just like my Goal to talk at a TED- conference, is a Goal that is about your own growth as a business owner, as a manager, as a leader, and as a person.
What that meant for Aaron was that he changed his Goal to this:
“On 30 June the business is humming, everybody is having a ball, our cash reserves are growing, our strategies are in place for next year and I am walking the talk of being a true business owner.”
As soon as we framed this Goal, Aaron found his enthusiasm again.
Aaron achieved all his Goals that year and threw a big party on the 30th of June.
The day after the party Aaron and I designed a new Goal for the next year that was just as inspiring as the last one and Aaron and his business have continued to thrive ever since.
Back to me and my Goal. It has taken me a while to set and commit to such a big Goal. The reason it took me a while is simply that I wasn’t ready. Now I am and I’ve found the same level of enthusiasm about my Goal that Aaron had a few years ago about his Goal.
So… how far do you want to grow as a business owner in 2014, and what Goal are you prepared to commit to?
I’d love to hear… drop me a line, and… I look forward to seeing you in the audience in 2024.
Call me if you’d like to explore how I can help you have more FUN running your business and build a business that sustains you for years to come. A great first step is to come along to one of my monthly Small Business Masterminds workshops or webinars… follow this link