I sat in a room with someone last year for 16 hours over two days and the only goal I could get her to commit to (to achieve what she wanted) was something she could do herself, in an empty room, with a sheet of paper and a pen, in two minutes flat. She is not a bad person. In fact, she is doing better than most who have no goals at all.
She, like to so many others, is goal averse.
Similarly, I sat in a different room with a senior management team who were committed to achieve bigger and better stuff for themselves and their customers. The meeting’s stated purpose was goal setting. After two hours of verbal wriggling, I said in exasperation – “for a senior team, I have never met a more goal-averse bunch of people in my life.” Again, these people are not evil, they are just ensnared in a trap we all fall into with varying degrees of frequency.
The reason for this level of flimflammery is of course fear of failure but more importantly what causes the spectre of failure to hove into view is the stupid way we set goals.
Goals are win or lose. You achieve them or you don’t. Death or glory.
But this is total nonsense.
I was lucky enough to speak in front of two dozen business owners this Wednesday at Liverpool Hope University. I told them a secret…
…since I threw off my lab coach in 1991 and kissed the commercial world hello, I have had a sales target (or its equivalent when I was a buyer). And this has been the case to this day. That’s over twenty years of annual targets. And the dirty secret is I never hit one of the buggers.
But let me tell you that twenty odd years of just missing tough targets is a damn site better than twenty odd years of hitting soft targets.
So, where does this leave us?
Well, here’s an idea…
…give yourself a gold, silver and bronze target.
Yeah. That’s it. I am a genius.
So, for example, let’s say you want to increase your profit this year to £100,000 after all costs (including your salary and the four week August strategy meeting in my favourite region of the UK – Bermuda.)
That’s your gold target.
So make your silver target £85K and your bronze target £70K.
Warning – the bronze target still needs to be a real step forward.
One of the major reasons people run from targets like pigs from the gun is because they have fear of failure, as I’ve said. But this is crazy.
When I was a boy…
…I lived in the US and the weather man would talk about “chance of precipitation.”
In science and statistics we have “the result is blah blah plus or minus x%.”
In the field of carbon dating of ancient relics we have “your management style is 40,000 years out of date plus or minus…it doesn’t matter, it’s just ancient.”
It is the ultimate intellectual stupidity to set a goal of 10, hit 8 and kick yourself for that (or be kicked), when everybody else in the game is targeting 6 and hitting 5.
The thing with the gold, silver and bronze approach is that failure is really failure. You know, sub bronze is not good. Not if you think you are in the game. But bronze and above is good.
All of this is of huge importance…
…if you are trying to drive high performance in yourself or others.
Because the formula for high performance is –
- Throw people in at the deep end (set tough goals)
- Do not allow drowning (and that includes you as well)
- Coach, coach, coach (or if it’s you – get coached)
And when you drive people like that (and yourself) you and they need to know that at the end of the day it is not hitting the target that matters. It is doing everything you can do to succeed and accepting the failures as part of the game.
This requires intellectual honesty from everyone involved.
And negativity when goals are missed despite excellent performance is simply poor management.
Goal setting is one of the few truly indispensible tools.
The real winners have learned how to use it.