leadership incorporated blog

June 14, 2010

INSPIRED TO SUCCEED: Are the goals you’re setting setting you up to fail?

Lately. I see a lot of people putting more and more hours and energy in to creating success without seeing the results they want. Yet they continue to work harder and harder. They are frustrated. They blame themselves. They wonder if they’ve lost the it they used to have.

Once we start to talk, I often notice that they haven’t done a good job of defining and setting their objectives. They haven’t done the work of getting really clear about what they want or visualizing the path that will produce the right results. Yet, they’re doing doing doing like crazy — and burning themselves out in the process.

If you feel like you’re working too hard for too little return, here are some principles of setting goals and objectives that are much more likely to lead you where you want to go.

First I want to make a distinction between a goal and an objective. A goal is a general intention: “more work,” “a promotion,”  “a new job.”

An objective is much more specific: “25% increase in sales,” “Making my promotion to Director permanent,” “Landing a COO position.”

I hear far more people speaking in goal language than objective language.

Last week we talked about getting specific, here’s how to go about it:
You may have heard of the concept of SMART objectives. These are objectives that are:
Realistic and

Let’s take Mark, for example. Mark is the Owner and President of a mid-sized technology company. Business is down and they need more income or they will have to reduce their workforce and may lose key talent that will inhibit their ability to survive long-term. So let’s look at Mark’s goal of “more income” in the SMART Objective context.

Is “more income” specific? Measurable?Actionable? Realistic? Time-based?  You can probably see that it’s none of the above.

So let’s work with Mark to develop a SMART goal. Mark is in various stages of conversation with 7 potential clients right now. So let’s say Mark’s new objective is to bring in $2.6 million in revenues by end of year by moving conversations forward with all seven clients, focused on a particular product. Mark will set up meetings with all seven, provide product information and incentivize them with a price reduction to act by September 15 with the intention of getting 2 of the 7 clients to move forward.

Do you see how this is much more specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time-based?

So this is good. But it’s not good enough.

When I talk to Mark a bit more about what he really wants, I learn that while this objective appears to address his immediate need of more income, he is not aligned with it. What Mark really wants is to sell the business and retire. Part of his pitch is personal service and he believes that if he closes these clients he will get stuck in the business for another 10 years. Can you see how this thinking might cause Mark to sabotage himself, to not come to those selling conversations with his best energy and to just go through the motions in a way that potential clients can feel his lack of engagement?

So while it’s important to have SMART objectives, they don’t go far enough.

For objectives to really set you up to succeed, they need to also have IMPACT.

Objectives with impact are:







So what happens if we bring what Mark really wants: to sell the business and retire, into the mix? While increased income is important to Mark and the business, it isn’t mission-based. Mark’s mission is to sell the business and retire. So the objective above would be in conflict with his mission, and therefore would not bring the results Mark wants to see.

Mark’s IMPACT objective might look more like this:  It turns out that one of Mark’s senior execs, Mike, might be interested in buying the business in a few years. So the new objective begins with our SMART objective above, but includes Mike in the conversations with those 7 companies. Mark and Mike will work together to redesign the pitch to include Mike in the personal service guarantee, purposefully setting up the conditions for Mark to sell to Mike. To create accountability, Mark and Mike decide to schedule regular check-in meetings and set up structures to keep things moving forward and identify any problems that need fine-tuning. Each persons steps are spelled out clearly and agreed to by both.  Mark and Mike plan to spend a lot of time in the potential client meetings listening, so as to thoughtfully incorporate client needs into their pitch and plans to maximize the likelihood of success.

Can you see how this objective is still SMART and sets Mark up to have the IMPACT he wants? If what’s most important to Mark is to retire, this objective solves the problem of needing revenues while it sets up a clear path to retirement and the sale of the business. This objective is going to motivate and energize Mark. He’s not going to feel he’s misleading anyone. He can bring his full energy and creativity to the process.

Apply this specific thinking to your objectives, whether you are stepping into a new position, leading a company through a change, searching for work, or anything else, and watch the difference it makes.

Let me know how it goes.


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