Wednesday, February 21, 2018

How Setting Specific Measurable Goals Could Be Holding You Back and What to Do Instead

As an HR professional and performance coach, a large part of my career centers around helping people, teams and companies improve their performance and achieve success, and a crucial component of success is setting good goals.

So how do we typically set goals?  We start with a statement that usually starts with "I want to....." (lose weight, quit smoking, simplify my life, grow my business, etc."

Then if we are really on our game we set SMART goals.  Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time oriented (They have a due date.) This is not revolutionary.

To take it up another notch, an even more powerful way to state goals is to speak about your goals as if you have already achieved them. "I eat right, exercise 5 times a week and turn heads wearing this killer dress." "I am a non-smoker." "I am the top seller in my firm with 25 customers and a portfolio value of 2 million."

Once we set those goals, we damn sure want to achieve them, especially when we make them "SMART", so we go a little conservative in our goal setting.  We cut ourselves some slack for things like cheat days, and just in case we really can't figure out how to increase our customer base, or in case another project coms up that takes up some of our time and attention.  It makes sense.  After all, at work during your year end
review no one wants to sit down with the boss and go through each goal saying, "No, I didn't achieve that, but almost."  It doesn't tend to fly or at least it didn't' where I worked.  You set the goal and you are held accountable to it.  To not achieve it means you are a failure, and no one likes to fail.

It works, this methodical way of making incremental change.   I am a huge proponent for baby steps to change.  When you keep plugging away, making constant tiny changes, you will eventually get to where you are going.

Then I stumbled across this one simple question that really got me thinking that maybe there was a flaw in this whole theory.  The question was, "What did you do this year and fail at?"  

I couldn't think of an answer.  Not because this year was full of success after success and all my dreams were realized.  I had a good year.  But.....I also didn't have anything I felt worthy enough to brag about.  I didn't launch a car into space or anything. Nothing that I put a full press heart and soul effort into.  That sort of left me a little deflated.

I think the flaw in this SMART goal theory centers around the fear of failure.  The "A" for "Achievable" part of the SMART goal.  If you really are craving a change, if you really have this secret dream goal you want to meet, then you don't make that goal achievable, you make it audacious, so audacious that there is a 90% chance you are not going to make it.  

That's right.  Strive to fail.  Counterintuitive, right?  Bear with me....

Great, transformative changes do not happen without failure.  Without failure, there is no real growth. if you design your life where you don't fail, where you don't stumble, then you aren't improving at the rate you could. 

When you go to the gym, you exercise to failure, right?  If you don't push the muscle to it's limit, then rest, your muscle slacks off, and you stay the same.  Growth happens when you push until you fail.  Failing is the goal, then you rest, regroup and then repeat.

The Wright brothers had this idea that was so preposterous at the time that no one for one second believed they would be successful.  There was no SMART goal tied to their dream of flying.  They weren't going for "Well, it would be nice to fly a little, by Christmas, so we could say we did it.  On second thought, maybe we should just go for gliding, so we don't fail to meet our stated goal".  They failed over and over again trying to achieve this crazy dream of flying.

Martin Luther King, Jr didn't start with a SMART goal, he started with a dream.

Don't get me wrong, SMART goals have a place.  You have to set measurable milestones.  However, we often confuse the SMART Goal with the purpose, the dream, then end result, and as a result, we sell ourselves short at the expense of real change.  It is when you push and miss your goal, rest/regroup, and think about why you missed that you learn and adjust and make real change happen.  If you succeed fast and often, you lull yourself into a sense of complacency and you don't become as good as you could be.  You become "good enough".  Imagine if Oprah achieved moderate success as a news anchor and didn't get fired?

I am a huge proponent of "Good enough" for 80% of what you do on a daily basis.  Laundry, dusting, dinner, paperwork, emails.......good enough.  Good enough exists for you to spend time not being "Good enough" on the one or two things that matter the most to you.  That's where the achievable comes in.  You pick one or two things, not everything, and you make that one thing so big and so bold and so audacious that you will fail.... in the short term.

You will fail in the short term.  Maybe that's today, maybe this year, maybe 5 years, but eventually you will fly.  But, no matter where you land in the short term while you figure out how to fly, you will have traveled farther than you ever believed you could.

So next year when you ask yourself the question, "What did you do this year and fail at?" have an awesome story to tell and tell it proudly.


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