“If you don’t know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else.”
- Laurence J. Peter
As CEO of a company that holds developing successful entrepreneurs as its core business, I spend a lot of time encouraging my team members to think about what success means to them individually. Each person’s vision of success is invariably varied (billionaire, philanthropist, Internet Superhero, to name a few of the replies I’ve heard), however, all are rooted in the basic dictionary definition of “success”: The accomplishment of an aim or purpose.
This definition makes having goals a prerequisite for being successful. The real world seems to agree with the dictionary: have you ever heard a story of a spectacularly successful person who claimed that their world-changingly innovative products and multi-billion dollar corporations “just sort of happened”?
This is why setting goals is an integral part of our company’s entrepreneurial training program. We devote copious energy to this stage of our team members’ development, having seen time and again that the people who make it a priority to create real goals perform better and are happier than those who don’t. Many people claim to have goals, but they are often only vague intentions that stand little chance of being fulfilled.
Real goals are committed to writing, and have powerful clarity attached to them that intentions do not. The simplest way to determine whether you have a real goal or just an intention is to ask yourself the following: Does it define why I want this, what I’m prepared to sacrifice to get it, when I will achieve it, and how I’m going to do it?
When setting a goal, always begin with why you want to achieve it. It’s at this formative stage where goals begin to evolve from intentions. For example: I’m going to double my business revenue is an intention. On the other hand, I’m going to double my business revenue because then I’ll be able to hire more support, upgrade my systems, and work fewer hours is starting to look like a real goal.
Don’t stop at just several reasons though. Think of and write down as many as you can. Then focus on the ones that resonate the most and expand on them. If working fewer hours is high on your list of priorities, leverage it to help achieve your goal: Working fewer hours will mean I can spend more time with my family, catch up on my reading, learn a foreign language, take up dancing lessons, go on that holiday to Brazil, etc.
There is no end to how detailed you can get. The likelihood of achieving any goal is directly linked to the reasons you have for wanting it. If your reasons are crystal clear and emotionally compelling enough, your mind will figure out a way to overcome any obstacle. If you want to travel to Brazil, why? How would it make you feel if you learned a new language? What would it mean to you if you got to spend more time with your family?
Achieving a worthwhile goal requires sacrifice. You must be aware of what you will be giving up from the very outset, so you’re not derailed by unpleasant surprises. To achieve the hypothetical goal of doubling business revenue so you can work less hours in the long term, can well require you to work more hours in the short term. At the very least you will need to put aside other tasks or preferred uses of your time so you can learn new skills, prepare bigger sales pitches, and grow your network of contacts.
Be prepared. After you’ve achieved absolute clarity on why you want it, write what you’re prepared to give up into your goal. For example: I’m going to double my business revenue so I can work less hours, which will let me have (rewards). These are important to me because (reasons). To achieve this, I’m giving up (sacrifices).
The next step is to put a deadline on when you will achieve your goal. As Parkinson’s Law states,Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Which is why when you know you’re taking Friday off, your weekly tasks somehow find themselves completed by Thursday.
Putting a deadline on your goal gives it a sense of urgency, without which it will probably decay into a state of perpetual, disheartening unfulfillment. Your deadline should be ambitious so you’re challenged to take action, but not something you inherently feel is unrealistic. You have to be excited by it and believe that it’s possible.
So for our hypothetical goal, you might decide that one year is a feasible timeframe for you to double your business revenue. Unfortunately, a year is too long to keep a singular goal in the front of your mind. Your progress will inevitably slip as other, seemingly urgent tasks come up to claim your attention.
The solution is to break up that long term deadline into smaller milestones. Always operate with 3 month, 1 month and weekly goals to keep yourself focussed. Without these short term measuring sticks, it’s easy to imagine that you’re not making any progress toward your major goal, get frustrated, and give up.
The final step of creating a real goal is to devise strategies for how to achieve it. Note that I saidstrategies; it’s important to have more than one. If your initial plan of action doesn’t pan out, you need to have back ups to keep propelling you forward. Plan for possible disappointment and how you’ll deal with it, or you’ll be selling yourself and the compelling reasons you want to achieve your goal short.
Strategies tie in excellently with your short term goal milestones. For instance, if you had decided you would increase revenue by 25% as your initial 3 month goal, you might make it an ongoing goal to close 2 new accounts each month. Strategies to support these short term goals might be to read a new book on sales techniques every two weeks, go to a networking lunch weekly, and get some brisk exercise every morning to pump up your energy for the day ahead.
The great thing about strategies like these is that they are structured and scheduled as steps toward your goal. They keep your mind focused on the short and long term outcomes, and your actions consistent with achieving them. If you find that one of your strategies is not working out – and this will probably happen – it’s not a cause to abandon your goal, just an indication that you need to replace one strategy with another. Don’t keep dogmatically pursuing a strategy when you know it’s not the most effective use of your time. The best strategic approach strikes a balance between being specific and flexible.
So our example goal should now look something like: I’m going to double my business revenue by (date) so I can work less hours, which will let me have (rewards). These are important to me because (reasons). To achieve this, I’m giving up (sacrifices), and taking these specific actions (strategies).
Clarity is Power
Compare this goal it with the vague intention we started out with: I’m going to double my business revenue. It’s self-evident which of the two is more likely to be achieved. The first has the power of absolute clarity and intent; the second sounds like a New Years resolution, doomed to be cast aside.
By putting in the time and energy to create real goals, you are empowering yourself to reach your full potential. In taking this a step further, and coaching the people you lead to approach goal setting in the same way, you are fostering a culture of high achievers. When you have a culture that’s united and focussed on unlocking your true collective potential, there’s no limit on the Happiness, Success and Fun you can share with the world.
Do you have any stories about successfully setting and achieving goals, by yourself or as part of a team? Are there any other goal setting techniques that you have found valuable? If you’d like to share, I’d love to hear them.