As the end of the year rolls around, goal-setting fever starts to kick in. Supervisors, teams, everybody begins to look forward to next year, getting performance objectives and revenue goals down on paper.
Sometimes, it seems to take on a life of its own.
Recent research isn’t so bullish on goal-setting, however. A Harvard Business School paper pokes holes in the whole process, saying that the benefits are overstated while the harm is largely ignored. At its worst, goal setting can promote unethical behavior, corrode workplace culture and reduce motivation.
Have an opinion on goal setting? We thought you might. To help the discussion, we rounded up some the most thoughtful — and occasionally non-traditional — takes on the goal-setting process.
This isn’t your grandfather’s goal setting. Read on.
Set the Right Goals
There’s a lot of guidance on setting goals — such as making them SMART or CLEAR — but the advice on how to structure your goals may be missing the most important point of all, says business coach Phoebe Vaughan.
The most perfectly written goal on the wrong objective won’t do anyone any good – and it can even harm. In her article for Uppercase, “Stop Wasting Time on the Wrong Goals,” Vaughan makes the argument that time spent chasing the wrong goal comes with costs that hit both the employee and the business.
Fortunately, there’s a process to get to the right set of goals, and Vaughan walks us through hers. The eye-opening advice here is deciding, in advance, how long to stick with your goals. It’s refreshing to see a nod to the process of staying nimble and agile with our goals, as well as our processes.
She also challenges another expectation: think that performance-based goals are the only goals out there? Not so, says Vaughan, and thinking so might put retaining your top performing team members at risk. Check out the article to learn what goals are important to high performers, to make them part of your 2016 strategy.
Not into goal setting? You’re in good company. Neither is entrepreneur James Clear. The thing is, he doesn’t think focusing on goals is the best way to get results. And in “Forget About Setting Goals. Focus on This Instead,” for Medium, Clear gets clear on what he means.
We all know that goals get broken down into action steps — Clear calls them systems — the little things we do regularly to make progress. Clear wants us to stop there and zero in just on the process, and stop putting the spotlight on the end goals.
Why focus on the means and not the ends? Clear cites some compelling reasons. First, goal-fixation can drain value from the present moment — when we need the goal to be met in order to be satisfied — and goals often suggest that we have control over things that we truly do not.
If that’s not enough, Clear argues that goals are actually at odds with long-term progress. Skeptical? Go check out his reasoning and see if you aren’t persuaded.
Clear’s bottom line: goals are about the short-term result, and systems are built to last. Ready to make progress next year? Skip the goals, but read the article. It’s provocative food for thought.
Set Goals Like Batkid
Maybe “Become a superhero” didn’t make it onto your 2016 goals list (or maybe it did). Thing is, shooting big is something many of us tend to lose as we grow older, says Tech Wildcatters Executive Director Molly Cain.
In her article “4 Problems With The Goals You’re Setting,” for Forbes, she argues that we need take a cue from young Miles Scott — the boy whose Make-a-Wish dream to “be Batman” was fulfilled in spades by well-wishers in 2013.
“He simply set it because it was a goal he didn’t think was not possible,” says Cain. “He saw it as his for the taking.”
Of course, just wanting something doesn’t make it so, but Cain says that as we lose our ability to set “magical goals” — probably a good thing — we also lose our ability to feel invigorated in the kind of way we should be when we consider our goals. And this, she thinks, is a loss.
Setting goals that we’re not passionate about, quitting too soon, being too scared — these are all things we learned as adults, and would do well to un-learn. Cain runs through each diagnosis and offers a healthy dose of motivation and advice as medicine.
Play and passion should have a part in our goal setting — a key part. Cain urges us to choose goals that will really enrich our lives and to pursue them with the passion of our childhood selves.
Thinking you need to put the spring back in your step on goal-setting for the next year? This article has what you need in one tidy package.
Ready for Goal Setting? Use This Tool
Ready to turn all this advice into action? Click your way to your 2016 goals by using this goal-setting tool presented by Harvard Business Review. “A Tool to Help You Reach Your Goals in 4 Steps” was created by Columbia Business School professor Heidi Grant Halvorson, and it’s a gem of a time-saver.
The webpage is actually a goal-generation machine that takes your inputs and walks you through the important next-steps to break the goal into doable action steps. After it breaks down goals into subgoals and smaller actions, you’re asked to create “if-then” triggers for putting those actions into play.
Stuck on what to enter? Check out her clearly written and itemized example centered around improving team communication (and if you crib directly from her example, we won’t tell).
Eye-opening and incredibly useful, this learn-by-doing interactive template will give you a jump-start on 2016 planning. Plus – all your goals will be formatted for action right from the start. This is definitely one for your to-do list.
Round Out Your Business Goals
Goal-setting means looking forward, but it’s good practice to also take a look back on the past year and reflect on how things went for us. And sometimes the best measurement of success doesn’t have anything to do with revenue, conversions or cost savings.
If you’re keen to use a different kind of yardstick, speaker and journalist Polly Irungu helps us take a thorough — and holistic — look at 2015 in “7 Questions to Ask Yourself at the End of the Year,” featured in Huffington Post.
Representing the softer side of goal setting, Irungu’s list focuses on creating individual goals that work both in and out of the workplace. Full of both exercises and advice, the seven questions aren’t a list that you can race through.
Although her tone is serene and warm — and some questions, such as “Did I extend kindness?” sound a little woo — don’t mistake this for a lightweight, feel-good diagnostic. Irungu hits on the things that matter most.
If you’re feeling reflective, this is an excellent guide to evaluating the past year. It even ends with a powerful excuse-busting exercise. Don’t miss it.