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Quality Topics

Goal Setting for Success

At the end of the year, we reflect about what we did last year and what we might like to accomplish in the coming year. Successful people do more than casually review progress and set new goals, they follow a process that helps them focus on the right goals and the right behaviors that lead to success.

Why set goals?
I once coached a woman whose career plan was to work for a strong person and let them take care of her career. She worked hard and made some progress but had become dissatisfied with the way things were going for her career. Her problem was she saw life with an external, beyond her,  locus of control instead of internal, within her, control. I  asked her to visualize the ultimate position she wanted to hold, which skills and experience would be needed to prepare for that, and what relationships she would need to cultivate (who could promote her)  so she could focus her work with  specific objectives in mind. I asked her to let people know what her goal was so she could get support and relevant feedback.  Within two years she had achieved her lifetime goal and was setting new, more ambitious goals for herself.

Setting goals keep us from wandering aimlessly through life, wondering why we are not going anywhere. Our goals give meaning to our life journey, they create a long term vision of who we can be, and provide short term motivation to do the hard work necessary to succeed. Goals help us to accomplish more and realize our full potential.

How to set goals:
Start by identifying your long term goals. Long term means more than a year away. Working backwards from completing the goal, break the long term goals down into intermediate milestones. Michael Jordan became the NBA’s leading scorer, averaging over 30 points per game, by setting small goals for himself. Although averaging 30 points a game sounds like a lot, he broke it down into quarters and then into minutes. Each game is divided into four 12 minute quarters. He figured he should be able to make at least 4 baskets a quarter, which is   one every 3 minutes. Stated that way, the goal seems easy enough.

Make sure your goals are positive. A positive goal is something you want to do. A negative goal is something you want to avoid doing. Negative goals (Example: Zero Defects) are hard to accomplish because they span an infinite time horizon and a single occurrence of the unwanted event is defined as failure. How would you measure progress on that goal? Restating this negative goal as a positive goal: Increase the mean time between defects from X to Y.  Now we can measure progress.    

Setting Goals that are positive, specific, and measurable give us clues on what to look for to evaluate our progress and know if our strategies to achieve them are working. Setting goals that focus on our performance makes this easier.  Make sure to focus on performance versus outcomes. Performance is determined by behavior which we can control. Outcomes are determined by performance and circumstances which are often beyond our own or anyone’s control. Example: An outcome based goal might be to increase US Formula One attendance by 10%. Unfortunately the weather cannot be controlled and torrential rains soaked the venue 2 days ahead of the race and kept fans away. A performance goal might be to complete 5 projects that improve the fan experience at the race, measured by positive sentiment on social media.

Prioritize the goals.
If everything is your top priority, then no specific thing is your priority. Start by putting goals into 3 categories. First, which goals are the foundations for future successes? Which ones have current and limited windows of opportunity to achieve? Which ones align with the resources you have and offer significant benefits? Second: Goals that are worthwhile but do not fit in to the above categories. Third, are all the other goals which, although nice to achieve don’t measure up to those in category one or two. Work on category one and file categories two and three for future consideration.   

Evaluate your progress toward your goals several times during the year, at least quarterly. Are your strategies working? Is a change required? Example: At Age 50 I decided I wanted to retire and start my own business at age 57, however when I turned 57  poorer than expected stock market performance meant I did not have enough money, therefore, I continued to work and reset my retirement age to 62 and built in some hedges against stock market performance. 

Goals may become irrelevant over time. Circumstances could change or the opportunity or resources needed to achieve the goal could disappear. There is no sense in continuing to focus energy on goals that are not relevant. Example: Continuing to spend marketing effort on a product the market has rejected in favor of superior offerings. Better to spend those resources on the next product.

Celebrate and reflect on your accomplishments.
It is important to take time to celebrate what we have worked hard to achieve. In my first year in business for myself, my goal was to earn enough money to buy myself a convertible. I wanted tangible evidence of my success.

After you achieve a goal, take a few minutes to reflect on what you did, why you did it and how you did it. Reflect on what you learned. Was the goal achieved in the time frame you expected? Was the effort required consistent with your projections? What relationships helped you accomplish your goal? What were the lessons learned that you will apply to future goals? Write down what you learned.

Failure is not the end. What should you do if you fail to accomplish your goals? Failure is not the end; it just means you did not achieve the goal in the time you wanted to. Take a moment to ask yourself what you learned. Did the goal match your values? Did you run out of time? Perhaps more frequent progress checks would have tipped you off that your plan was not working. Did you underestimate the effort required or the resources needed?

If necessary, change your approach and plan of action based on your evaluation of the goal, your progress, and the circumstances, then keep working on unmet goals if they are still relevant.