Feeling Aimless? Eight Principles That Will Increase the Effectiveness of Your Goals

Carl Lewis

In his sophomore year, Michael Jordan failed to make the varsity basketball team due to his height.  He was 5 ft. 11 in (1.80 m) and classed as too short to play at that level. He wrote the following in his book, I Can’t Accept Not Trying: Michael Jordan on the Pursuit of Excellence, “I approach everything step by step….I had always set short-term goals.  As I look back, each one of the steps or successes led to the next one.  When I got cut from the varsity team as a sophomore in high school, I learned something.  I knew I never wanted to feel that bad again….So I set a goal of becoming a starter on the varsity.  That’s what I focused on all summer.  When I worked on my game, that’s what I thought about.  When it happened, I set another goal, a reasonable, manageable goal that I could realistically achieve if I worked hard enough….I guess I approached it with the end in mind.  I knew exactly where I wanted to go, and I focused on getting there.  As I reached those goals, they built on one another.  I gained a little confidence every time I came through.” Jordan didn’t make excuses. His burning desire to be the best, his refusal to quit, to persevere, to practice, to do more than the minimum by approaching everything one step at a time eventually led to him being one of the greatest basketball players of all time.

Business leaders often struggle with how to motivate themselves and others. One of the most tested methods of enhancing motivation is through the use of goal setting. Goals can provide you with a way to focus your energy on getting a specific task completed as well as stimulating you to meet challenges, and increase effort, persistence, and learning. However, goal-setting by itself does not guarantee performance improvements. Here are eight principles that will increase the effectiveness of your goals:

Set short-term and long-term goals. Long-term goals are important as they tell you where you are going. Short-term goals show you your progress towards meeting your long-term goals. Use short-term goals to achieve long-term plans. For example, if you set a long-term goal to sell a certain number of cars in a quarter, you should set short-term goals, perhaps every month , week, or even day to achieve your long-term goal. By evaluating your short-term achievements, you can adjust your goal either upwards or downwards, depending on the situation.

Use moderately difficult goals. Moderately difficult goals are superior to either easy or very difficult goals. You must be able to work hard and extend yourself in order to meet them and at the same time they must be realistic. When setting your goal, ask yourself what is the minimum you can do? What is the maximum you can do? What is in the middle; a realistic stretch?

Use SMART goals. An easy way to remember the principles of effective goal setting is to use the acronym SMART. Specifically, in a business setting this would stand for the following aspects of goal setting:

Specific: Goals must be clear and unambiguous, targeting a specific area for improvement.

Measurable: Results must be able to be measured in some way, quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress.

Attainable: Goals must be realistic.

Relevant: Goals must relate to your organization’s vision and mission.

Time-bound: Goals must have definite starting and ending points, and a fixed duration during which the results(s) can be achieved.

Use a mix of process, performance, and outcome goals. Outcome goals (success/failure) can serve a useful purpose when they are used in conjunction with process and performance goals, but by themselves they can lead to a loss of motivation. You don’t want to focus on outcome goals as you have a great deal of control over performance and process goals, but not much over outcome goals. Performance goals focus on achieving standards or performance objectives independently of other performers and teams and usually focus on improvement in relation to your previous performance. Process goals focus on what you need to do in order to be successful or reach your performance goals. The idea is that if you reach these process goals, then it is more likely that you would reach your performance goals and then eventually your outcome goal.

Set team as well as individual performance goals. In a research study, the performance of 12 bowlers who set individual performance goals to knock down a certain number of pins was compared to the performance of 12 bowlers who set a team goal to knock down a set number of pins as a team. The results showed that the group who set their goals as a team out-performed the other group.

Write down your goals and monitor progress. If you have set a goal you truly want to achieve, writing it down and knowing how you are doing is of critical importance. Research shows that writing down goals increases commitment to the goal while at the same time helping keep goals in the forefront.

Get buy-in. If you are a supervisor or coach setting goals for your employees or team, it’s best to let your team members participate in goal setting to ensure their goals are self-determined or accepted and internalized. Be supportive and create SMART goals together for a greater chance of success.

Set positive goals. Goals can be stated either positively or negatively. Whenever possible, set goals in positive terms by focusing on behaviors that should be present rather than those that should be absent. This can help you focus on success rather than failure.

Common reasons why goals fail to succeed include poorly written and conceived goal statements, failure to devise and/or follow a goal attainment strategy, failure to monitor performance progress, and discouragement. Discouragement is often caused by goals being too difficult, having too many goals, and the inappropriate use of outcome goals. Follow the principles outlined above and you’ll be successful in focusing your energy, meeting challenges, increasing effort, persistence and boosting your motivation. Let us know what you manage to achieve.