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Setting Goals? How to Avoid Pitfalls and Achieve Your Objectives
Goal setting is exhilarating. Reaching for that north star and claiming our dreams generates optimism and uplifts our spirits.
But as for making prudent goals, and then achieving them—that’s a harder nut to crack.
In order to really reach for the sky, goal planning and execution require deliberate strategy.
Many goals suffer from the Goldilocks syndrome: they’re too large—for example, to increase income from $10K to 100K in a year. Or else so easily achieved that a company doesn’t have to work to its potential.
And as for the “just right” stretch goals, the execution is easily fumbled. The goal isn’t communicated effectively to the entire team, or is presented in such a way that employees are uninspired to get on board. Or, the company systems simply aren’t aligned to achieve it.
As flat-organizations have become commonplace in today’s business world, self-leadership and goal setting skills are more critical than ever. They’re a central component to everyone’s work life.
To keep your ship on course, consider the following strategies and pointers when setting company goals and achieving work objectives.
Set Savvy Goals
A goal has widespread implications throughout a business. It affects the job duties of everyone on board, and the focus of the company.
Although every company has scores of things it would like to achieve in every department, it’s important to narrow a goal to one or two central objectives. “If you deem everything to be important, then what you’re really saying is that nothing is of particular importance,” says Steve Divitkos, former CEO of Microdea.
When selecting a goal, it’s also important to carefully consider the repercussions it may have on the work environment and how it affects the company’s overall vision.
In their paper “Goals Gone Wild”, a team of Harvard researchers discuss the pitfalls of setting the wrong type of goal:
“Goals may cause systemic problems in organizations due to narrowed focus, unethical behavior, increased risk taking, decreased cooperation, and decreased intrinsic motivation.”
An effective leader understands what to focus on in order to foster a productive environment. Matt Briggs of Four Hands Furnishings in Austin Texas, for example, doesn’t put any time into figuring out why a particular product doesn’t sell. Focusing on failure discourages employee motivation, and could easily create dissension in the workplace.
Rather, his company focuses its objectives around a top-selling item. They identify everything about the product and its marketing that generated success.
Briggs also stresses the need to effectively communicate the essence of company goals to every employee. Four Hands distributes swag at quarterly meetings in order to disseminate the message throughout the company.
While a boss may have perfect clarity as to the significance of a company goal, it’s not unlikely a support services employee is simultaneously wondering, “What is the point of calling, then emailing, and then emailing again all of our past customers to pitch a new product?”
A company is far more likely to achieve its objectives if it generates enthusiasm from all departments and every employee.
Achieving goals requires employees to take on a new skill, or implement a new system. They are more willing to upend their regular job duties when they know that as a result, a generous incentive comes their way.
It’s important for an incentive to be comparable to the goal the company is working toward. A small incentive, such as a 5% salary bonus, may not be what it takes to shift the needle.
If the company has picked the right goal, revenue isn’t in short supply and so providing a decent bonus is well within the company’s reach.
Similarly, a goal aligned with a vision or the mission of the company, rather than simply metrics, inspires enthusiasm.
For example, take a landscaping company with a penchant for rose bushes. Rather than having a yearly marketing goal to send out ten newsletters, it might instead plan to photograph every rose bush they plant, and post the images to Instagram, in blog posts, and pitch them to a magazine for a feature article.
Distinguish Goals from Desires
At first blush, a company goal that includes increasing quarterly revenue by 10% sounds reasonable.
However, one fundamental component to achieving this goal is completely out of the company’s hands. In order to make any sale, a company is dependent on a potential customer deciding to make a purchase or sign up for a service.
Communications expert Dr. Randy Marshall points out that we need to make a distinction between goals and desires. In his own words:
“You can’t control someone else any more than you can control the weather. A goal has to do with you alone; ‘if it’s to be it’s up to me.’ The work ethic has got to be translated into activities–you have to swing the bat. All goal setting is scheduled and it is predictable.
You don’t work for a desire, you pray for a desire….desires have to do with results. The actions determine the results. The harder I work, the luckier I am going to get. I cannot control results. Desires are unpredictable and unscheduled, because you can’t control results.”
As Randy points out, working to increase company revenue is futile—it’s really a desire. Rather, a more appropriate goal focuses exclusively on work you can control.
With this reframing, a goal of increasing revenue would rather focus on marketing and product development. It would exclusively include work that employees do within the company, such as creating lead generating content, hosting webinars, and designing and developing new products.
It’s important to track these metrics in order to understand how they affect the desired result. For example, how many leads and sales does a blog post generate, versus a Google Ad?
The good thing about goals, as Marshall points out, is that you can easily assign metrics to them, and a time frame in which they need to be accomplished.
Sail in Formation
“Every action that brings a company closer to its goal is productive. Every action that does not bring a company closer to its goal is not productive,” says the character Jonah in Eliyahu Goldratt’s bestselling book, The Goal.
A company has finite resources. To achieve its objectives, it’s critical to ensure that all its resources (money, equipment and human labor) work in alignment toward these objectives.
This entails getting into the weeds, or the daily and weekly tasks, of each department and every employee.
Take the example of a furniture company that designs a new line of chairs every year. In order to sell these products, the marketing department’s quarterly tasks might be featuring the chairs in a newsletter, attending three furniture shows, and creating search engine ads.
Specific goals should be made for the support and manufacturing departments as well.
Given that the resources are limited, it’s important to make astute decisions as to these daily and weekly tasks. Would the marketing department be better off finding completely new customers, or pitching products to previous customers? And would it be better served with in-person marketing or search engine ads?
Rather than relying on opinions, it’s a good idea to look at data to make these decisions.
This level of alignment, where every department and employee has specific daily and weekly tasks that work toward the same objective, generates powerful momentum.
See the Forest and the Trees
Life coach and hypnotist Tony Robbins is known for saying that “we underestimate what we can get done in a decade, and overestimate what we can accomplish in one year.”
To rephrase, it’s hard to gauge our level of productivity within various timeframes. Although it’s important to break objectives down to daily tasks (“what do I need to do today to achieve my twelve month goal?”), an exclusive focus on this timeframe is myopic.
That is to say, achieving objectives requires taking both a macro and micro view.
Steve Divitkos emphasized daily goals during weekly company meetings, then took his company on quarterly retreats to re-asses and re-strategize annual goals.
When looking at objectives from a three-month time frame, it’s not unusual to find that a task is taking longer than anticipated. It’s crucial to identify the cause: is it simply requiring more hours of labor? Or is something else creating a hang-up? Taking the long view makes it easier to finesse and rearrange daily and weekly tasks.
Quarterly objectives encompass more than the weekly minutia. While a daily marketing task might be “research topic for weekly blog post”, quarterly goals might entail determining a theme for the seasonal content, and hiring a graphic designer to format the content.
Who’s Ready to Achieve Some Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals?
Achieving objectives within a company requires careful thought and consideration. Business coach and social media expert Tara Swiger points out that setting your goals is as time consuming and takes as much effort as the daily work of the business itself!
Whether you’re a solopreneur, an employee at flat-organization, or running a company, the principles of goal-setting still apply. The careful allocation of resources—including our time—is central to achieving goals. As is taking a micro and macro approach to scheduling our workload.
The good news is, through applying these principles and staying the course, success is within the reach of anyone.
Swiger also stresses the importance of celebrating the achievement of our goals. How do you commemorate your white-hot successes?