Don’t bother setting New Year goals

Blaire Palmer isn’t convinced that goal-setting works. Having a sense of purpose is far more important.

28th Jan 2020
CEO That People Thing Ltd
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Goals

You’ve probably already set some personal goals for 2020. The same applies in business. You’ve asked yourselves: what are this year’s targets? How many more new clients will we get on board? How much shall we increase headcount? How quickly do we want to turn around the average tax return?

Setting goals sounds sensible. The process is based on an assumption that it’s the outcome that tells us whether we’ve been successful or not. But I’m not always convinced that goal-setting works for individuals or for businesses.

The outcome isn’t the only measure of success

Let’s say you want to lose two stone. You could starve yourself and the weight would fall off, but it may well come as soon as you returned to your normal eating habits. Losing weight this way doesn’t make you healthier, just able to wear a smaller size of trousers. You achieve the goal but not the intended outcome.

Equally, you could take up a sport, make new friends, get fit but find the scales still taunt you with the same weight as before you bothered. You’ve failed at your goal even though you are healthier, more active and having fun.

Some goals are better measured by behaviours than outcome.

Let’s say you want to retain more clients. You’ve set a target and now you’re measuring progress towards the target. As with losing weight, there are lots of ways to do this, some of which might be bad for your firm’s reputation or for the bottom line. You’ll hit the number but for what?

Instead, think about the behaviours that make clients want to stay. Why do they leave? What can you do differently to get their loyalty? Succeeding in this goal isn’t about numbers, it’s about deep understanding of your clients and the behaviours you demonstrate with every interaction.

Rather than measuring outcomes, you might measure inputs: how long you spend with clients face to face and how much you learn every time you’re with them, or how responsive you are when they make an enquiry.

Of course, you need to make money and you may want to grow your client base, but focusing on an outcome goals without thinking about the behaviours that matter to you and to your clients won’t work.

Back to the weight-loss concept, if you eat healthily, take exercise and stick away from the beers you’ll be in better shape whatever the scales say.

Not all outcomes are in your control

Sometimes a prospective client will tell me they are working with me because they want to get a promotion.

We can’t make ‘get a promotion’ the goal of our coaching because so much of that outcome is outside our control. I can’t guarantee that a better candidate won’t apply, or that the promotion system is fair, or that my client has what it takes to get there.

Instead, we will focus on what is within our control. My client can work on their impact and presence, get feedback about what qualities the business is looking for in a successful candidate and consider whether they are a good fit, network in the firm to ensure they are known and their value is appreciated.

All of this will make them a better leader, a more valuable contributor to the firm and a more fulfilled employee. It just can’t ensure they’ll get the job.

Consider the goals you’ve set. Are they within your control? Achieving a growth in sales isn’t actually in your control. You can influence it, of course. You can take all the right actions. But sometimes you won’t win a new client for reasons that were beyond your influence.

Instead, have an intention. It’s great to have a destination in mind, an inspiring and motivating direction of travel. And then focus on what you have the most control over and double down on that.

Purpose is more important than goals

Increasingly businesses are focused less on the pure financials and more on a sense of purpose. Many clients today are not only interested in the cheapest or fastest or most convenient option but a values connection between them and the companies they work with. Clients want a meeting of minds.

We live at a time when people are seeking meaning and purpose over and above security and status (or rather, they want security and status and they also want meaning and purpose). If your company doesn’t stand for anything how do you differentiate beyond being the fastest or the cheapest or the most local?

Fulfilling a purpose isn’t about goals. Sometimes, to fulfil a purpose you may have to shrink your firm, cut your margin or let clients go. You may even have to acknowledge that you aren’t required any more and find another line of business (or pivot dramatically).

This might seem like an unnecessary risk. “Let’s focus on our financial goals, not this wishy-washy purpose stuff that could put us out of business”. But in the longer term, you may discover that purpose-driven firms are out-performing those with a more conventional profit and loss focus. And by then it’s too late.

It’s about balance

In the end, you can’t serve clients or deliver on your purpose if you’re not financially viable, if you don’t have the right staff or if you don’t know where you’re headed.

But our obsession with goal-setting means we often neglect other factors – the behaviours that matter, what’s inside and outside our control and why we’re actually in business in the first place. Go back to this year’s goals and check that they’re going to get you what you really want.

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