Let me state first, I am a big believer in goals. Big goals. Small goals. Health goals. Careers goals. A goal focuses your attention and efforts, enabling efficient and effective pattern of accomplishments. If that isn’t clear enough, let me say, “Goals are good.”
I am a voracious reader of all things related to success. This includes goals, motivation, determination and processes. There have been a growing number of articles pushing back at the usefulness and healthiness of having goals. Now, I don’t claimed that all you need are goals. A broken organization or an underperforming person needs more than a good stretch goal. And no, daydreaming about wandering through a field of clovers 20 minutes a day will not magically lead to wealth. (Not only did I actually read that theory, someone actually wrote it.)
There are some legitimate issues with unquestioning dedication to goal setting. For example, Audrey Daniels claims that people who repeated fail to reach their stretch goals have a decline in productivity. (Oops! 13 Management Practices That Waste Time and Money). Another study suggests that stretch goals have “bad side effects,” such as unethical behavior, narrowing focus, poor risk analysis and a toxic organizational culture. Others have suggested that goal setting actually forces people to focus on short term objectives over long term goals…….Ummm, goals are by nature a longer term nature. If your goals are forcing a short term focus problem, you are doing it wrong. Throw those away and try again. These goal studies were more on organizational goals but personal goals are not without critics as well. For example, people who set and fail to achieve their goals may feel badly. That is kind of like saying some people who fall in love will get their hearts broken, so no one should go on dates. Goal setting can create a myopic view where people may not go after a better outcome that arrises later it doesn’t fit with the original goal. The example was someone who had a goal of getting their boss’s job might pass up a promotion in another department or a better job in another company . . . . . . really? This is what we have to worry about.
Ok, the research does call out things we need to be concerned about. Unfortunately, most of the research seems to focus just on stretch goals and poorly written goals. Let’s go over a few healthy goal setting rules:
1.) Know why you want to accomplish your goal. What is your vision? What is it that you are trying to accomplish? Your goals should be in alignment with your ultimate vision. Goals that do not take you toward your goals are not valid goals.
2.) Goals need to be flexible. Review your goals and your vision on a regular basis. Very long term goals (e.g. a high schooler with a goal of becoming a brain surgeon) need to be reviewed at least annually. Closer in goals need to be reviewed more frequently, for example, an annual goal needs to be reviewed monthly. When you review your goal, don’t just see if you are on track but check if that goal still fits your vision.
3.) Celebrate every win. You may have an awesome, motivating goal. Losing 100 pounds. Doubling your business. Whatever. Something big and powerful. If that goal got you moving and working, it is a win. Every pound shed and every point of growth is a win. Yes. Losing 80 pounds is not losing 100 but it is still an amazing accomplishment. Growing your business by 50% is not doubling it but it is worth a celebration. Even if your business didn’t grow at all but you learned and personally grew, then it is a win. Focus on the positives. If you learn from the negatives, there are no negatives, just education.