Over the New Year’s weekend, I was going through some old papers, figuring out which ones to feed to the shredder, when I came upon several sets of my goals from many years ago. In one sense, finding them was like having a telescope to look at my past. I saw what was important to me 20 and 30 years ago. But the big thing that came out of reviewing those goals was how little difference they made in my life.
There’s solid, scientific evidence that setting goals can make you more effective. In 2002, Edwin Locke and Gary Latham published a paper in American Psychologist about goals. They found that goals can help you make smart choices about how to spend time, energy, and resources. Having a goal can give you a reason to work hard and to do important things that you might not want to do today, but that will make for a better tomorrow.
So, if that’s true, why didn’t my goals have that effect? How can we do a better job of using goals to become more successful?
Most of The Writing About Goals Is Too Simplistic
There’s an awful lot written about goals, but most of it is too simplistic. Too many experts think that there’s one best way to set goals. And almost all the writing about goals concentrates on goal setting and ignores goal achievement.
You need more than goals. You need a way to connect your goals to your life. You need a system of goals.
BHAG or The Big Why
Jim Collins and Jerry Porras introduced business readers to the idea of the BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) in their 1994 book, Built to Last. They say that “A BHAG engages people – it reaches out and grabs them in the gut.”
Whether you call it a BHAG or not, you need a clear idea about why you’re going to the trouble of setting and working toward your goals. You need to establish why you’re setting goals. Your BHAG should be really, really big, so big that you can’t see right away how long it will take to achieve it or what exactly you will have to do along the way.
Working toward an important goal is often hard. You will have to do things that are uncomfortable. When that happens, or when it’s just a day that you don’t feel much like working, knowing why you’re doing this and being able to remind yourself of it are important.
Your big why should be emotional. Edward Deci and Richard Ryan identified three basic human drives that they called Autonomy, Relatedness, and Competence. Your big why should address at least one of those. And, you want to avoid things that require outside validation, like popularity or fame.
You Need Outcome Goals to Measure Progress
You may not be able to see all the way to your BHAG, but you can certainly have an idea what the next couple of steps should look like. They’re the goals that are the outcome of your work.
Your outcome goals should be specific. Everyone should be able to tell if you’ve achieved the goal. My friend, Stephen Lynch, says that you must define the “pop the cork moment.”
There should be a time component. A key word here is the word “by.” That’s “by” as in “increase revenue by 50 percent per month by August 31.”
You don’t want too many outcome goals. In theory, one goal that measures really important results is best. My experience is that most people do best with two goals, which can be in tension with each other some of the time.
Outcome goals are important, but they have one flaw. You only can measure them after you’ve achieved them or not. They don’t do a lot to help you get important work done every day.
You Need Behavioral Goals to Drive Your Activity
Behavioral goals are measures of what you say or do. The challenge is to identify things you need to do to achieve your outcome goals.
I worked for a company once that had very simple behavioral goals for their salespeople. They told the salespeople that if they made eight appointments every day and that they did product demonstrations on six of the eight appointments, they should make an average of one sale a day. The sales were an outcome, the behavior was the eight calls and six demonstrations.
The word “every” is important. Behavioral goals should be things you do every day, or at most every week, in order to drive the outcomes you want. Get this right and you won’t have to think about what you need to do every day or week to hit your outcome targets.
So, you have to have a big why. You need to have outcome goals that measure progress and behavioral goals that measure the activity that will drive the progress. That’s all there is for goals, but not for a goal system.
This doesn’t have to be fancy. You can set up an elaborate graphic scoreboard or make a snazzy spreadsheet that tracks your results. But you can also simply keep a stroke count of, for example, the amount of time you spend on a particular activity or your number of prospecting calls. Make this simple. You should be able to gather information on how you’re doing and update your scoreboard in ten minutes or less.
One of the best examples of doing something like this is a story that’s told by my friend Mark Deterding. He tells about a leader who set a goal of catching at least six people a day doing something right and praising them. Every morning he took six fishing jigs (sans hooks) and put them in his left pocket. During the day, whenever he caught someone doing something right, he moved one of the jigs to his right pocket. At the end of the day, counting the jigs in his right pocket told him how he did that day.
It’s harder than you would imagine to figure out which lead measures will drive the outcomes you want. Things usually don’t work out the way we expect. You should stop and check and determine how things are working for you.
Review your behavioral goals every day. Take some time every week to see how you’re doing and what your performance trend is. Every 90 day, review your entire system. How are you doing on those behavioral goals? Are they having the effect you expect on the outcome goals? If things are working, great. If not, make some changes, but keep on keeping score and reviewing progress.
You need a BHAG or “Big Why” to remind you why what you’re doing is important.
You need outcome measures to track your progress and behavioral goals to drive your activity.
You need to keep score and review your progress.
That’s how to increase the odds that your goals work for you.