This New Year, Don't Set Goals
January 5, 2016
It's interesting that at the start of the New Year we seem to become obsessed with setting new goals for our teams and ourselves. Psychologically the start of the New Year seems to signal a new beginning; the turning of the page and commencement of a new chapter. Fresh from some much needed rest and relaxation over the holidays, we are now fixated on making this year one to remember. The first step intuitively seems to be goal setting. What is it that our team wants to achieve this year? But here's an idea: Why don't we avoid that magnetic pull that so badly wants to set goals? This year let's not set goals. Often setting goals works against achieving success.
I believe in businesses and teams needing to have a definitive, aspirational purpose. It is this purpose that becomes your North Star. It navigates your decision-making and informs your business approach, which, in turn, defines your culture. Having a purpose is like firmly planting a flag in the ground and saying, "this is what we stand for." Your purpose becomes motivational, as it is the beacon around which your employees rally. Successful companies are built around a purpose that delivers an emotional benefit to the consumer. Simply put, your purpose is your reason for existing.
If you truly think about what your purpose is, it is your team's ultimate goal. Your team unites around delivering the purpose. Every team member works to find better ways to honor and live up to this higher purpose. They know that if the emotional benefit is truly desired by the consumer, then profits will follow.
Every business or team needs a purpose. What are you here to do? These successful companies have defined their purpose:
- "Nourishing families so they can flourish and thrive" - Kelloggs
- "Locally, in an environmentally friendly way, making fruit and vegetables that taste better" - Urban Farmers.
- "Organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful" - Google
- "Give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected" - Facebook
- "To make people happy" - Disney
- "To help people save money so they can live better" - Wal-Mart
I'm not advocating for setting a purpose, then sitting back and waiting for things to happen. We know in that scenario nothing will happen. Continual action is the key to success. You must be moving at all times to make progress. What I am advocating is that there is a better way to create and sustain action without setting goals.
The problem with setting goals is that your competition has the same goals. I have sat in many strategic planning sessions where goals are set to the tune of "We will be #1 with Female consumers." I sit there wondering how our goal differs from that of our competitors who desire the same result. The answer is, it doesn't.
The problem with traditional goal setting is that it is focused on the outcome. If everyone has the same goals, it's not the goals that will lead you to success, but your commitment to the process. Fixating on the end result makes winning feel almost insurmountable. It is demotivating to people to be faced with such a lofty destination. So, this year forget setting goals altogether and instead focus on milestones.
Milestones are markers on your journey. The steps that you need to take in order to move forward. Imagine that you are going to run a Marathon this year. You have never done it before so it's a little daunting. Your goal may be "To successfully complete a marathon by the end of the year." For someone who has never run a marathon before that sounds just as terrifying as it does exciting. And that is the problem. When doubt or fear enters our mind about the feasibility of our goals, we are already less likely to achieve them. The mind is already visualizing the possibility of failure and what we visualize has the tendency to become reality. A far more productive approach would be to focus on the milestones needed to run a marathon in a sequential order. The first milestone could be to seek out the advice of someone who has successfully run a marathon. After you have achieved the first milestone you move on to the next. From their advice you may now be focused on outlining a training plan. Here's the important part. You don't map out all your milestones at the start... instead you follow the process and take one step at a time.
Success comes from momentum. The process of you taking continual steps forward. It's about small incremental improvements that over time transform your performance.
Remember that your purpose creates your direction. It is essential that your purpose is concretely defined and holds value for the consumer. Forget additional goals; instead focus on milestones that will take you closer to your purpose. Once you accomplish a milestone, you focus on the next one. You should never focus on more than one milestone at a time, and you must accomplish each one before moving on. The more milestones we can reach the better our performance and the better the outcome.
It's a simple formula "Purpose + Milestones = Success."