Can you believe we are already in July? It seems hard to believe half the year is in the rear view mirror.
Since your second quarter is over let me ask: how are you doing? Did you hit your quarterly goals or are you still catching up from the first quarter? Have you even thought about your goals for Q3? Are you on track for your year? If you’re like most of us, my guess is that you’ve still got some work to do.
How do I know this? Because countless studies and opinion pieces have been written on goal setting and goal attainment theory. In Measure What Matters, John Doerr, covers Edwin Locke's theory about “specific, hard goals." Back in 1968 Locke asserted that hard goals were more effective than easier ones. Since then we've developed acronyms for SMART goals and HARD goals, and SMARTER goals. While the acronyms abound multitudes of people, everywhere, every day, still struggle with setting goals and/or executing against them to attain their vision. What you need is a framework to set better goals.
The framework I like for setting better goals is unique because I think it accounts for the two things that are key to all goals: difficulty and simplicity. I call the framework the Goal Setting Paradox. It’s the idea that better goals must be difficult and simple.
Goals Must be Difficult
Difficulty can be subjective. What is difficult for one team may prove easy for another. There are three ways we can define difficulty to be less subjective.
Difficult goals take more than a year to accomplish.
This means goals are mid-term achievements whose purpose is to propel your business toward the future. Difficult goals may have priorities or tasks that can be accomplished in less than a year, like checkpoints in route to the finish line, but the end result should engage your team for around a year. Difficult goals, proven by extensive study, result in high rates of engagement and execution.
Difficult goals engage more than one department/team
The implication here is that difficult goals utilize the strengths of multiple teams in your business. A perfect illustration for this is Amazon’s original series “GRAND PRIX Driver.” The series follows McLaren’s Formula One racing team as they attempt to regain their competitive standing in the sport of F1. The first season documents the inner workings of McLaren and extraordinary number of teams that must be engaged to build a Formula One car worthy of competing.
Difficult goals require learning and personal growth.
Setting difficult goals will require movement from a context of safety and normal, toward discomfort and challenge. The status quo is not engaging enough for your team to pursue. They won't engage, won't give their best, and definitely won't grow as individuals during the process. When gold is tested to determine its level of purity it is subjected to intense heat that either burns off the impurities or allows them to be skimmed off the molten metal. It's not a pleasant process. Difficult goals have the same effect on team members, but the end result is a more refined, more capable, more valuable product. the fire is hot and acts as a force on the gold.
Goals Must Also be Simple.
It is important to understand that difficulty does not presume complexity. There is a real danger in goal setting of making things more complex than they need to be. But there is also a danger in creating simplistic goals that fail to reach a meaningful level of difficulty. That is why goals must be simple but not simplistic. There are two qualities that illustrate the value of simple goals
Simple goals are well defined and explicit
This involves not only defining what the goal is but also the exact result we should be able to expect when the goal is achieved. Those charged with achieving any goal are going to naturally wonder "why?" Being able to paint a clear picture of what goal achievement looks like and what difference it will make enables the leader to answer that question from the beginning.
When we first get involved with a business we perform a Strategic Assessment that will list dozens of recommendations for improvement (i.e. what we are asking them to do). But we also list why we think the business should adopt our recommendation (and possibly turn it into a goal). Giving our clients a clear picture of what accomplishment looks like can help them decide if the why and the what are worth their time, effort and resources.
Simple goals put first things first.
Teams need to step back and ask if the goals they've set are address the most important priorities in the long term success of the business. That isn't to say that long term goals always trump short term goals. On the contrary, it makes little sense to set goals for long term product development when cash flow isn't capable of funding current operations, much less long term strategy. On the flip side businesses that constantly set goals around urgent priorities never develop a competitive advantage because they never consider anything other than the fire that needs to be put out now.
In spite of how you may feel now it is possible to finish the quarter with excitement and a sense of positive inertia. It may just be a process of setting better goals, goals that embrace the Paradox of being difficult and simple at the same time.