4 warnings about goal-setting

Everyone knows that the most successful people are goal-setters, right?  Not so fast.  Consider these warnings before setting your next round of goals.

The most common characteristic among leaders and other successful business people I know is that they routinely set goals.  Goal-setting has become a fundamental skill, and terms like SMART goals and BHAG’s are commonplace.

‘SMART’ refers to the acronym Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-bound.  This is a simple and powerful method to ensure that your goals are achievable.

‘BHAGs’ are Big Hairy Audacious Goals and were made popular by Jim Collins in his best seller, Good to Great.  In it he shared how BHAGs were powerful for keeping people aligned around something exciting and worthwhile.

With a powerful method and great examples, what could go wrong with SMART BHAGs?  Consider these caveats.

1. Arbitrary limits.

How high should the goal be?  What is “realistic”?  What is big enough, hairy enough, or audacious enough? How long should you work toward a goal before it should be achieved?  Your guess is as good as mine. The first issue with goal setting is that it can be very arbitrary.

Set the goal too high or the time period too short, and you may unwittingly break the “realistic” rule.  Set the goal too low and you may settle for achieving it without fully tapping your potential.

2. Destination mindset.

The second issue is that goals can create a ‘destination mindset’.  The late Dr. Stephen Covey famously recommended that we should “begin with the end in mind”; sage advice.  However, is the completion of your goal really ‘the end’?  …or just a point on the journey?  Did you consider the real ‘end’ when you set your goals?

If achieving your goal produces the feeling that you’ve ‘arrived’.  Beware.  The behaviors that got you there must continue, if not intensify.  Even a brief lapse in these routines can reverse your gains.   The weight goes back on.  The company car goes back to the dealer.

Worse yet, you may discover that the destination you so fiercely fought for isn’t all you’d hoped for.  You are still much the same person.  You still have fears and doubts, only now you are left wondering how to top your last performance.

3. Compromised character.

In his best-selling book called DRiVE, Daniel Pink shares that the pursuit of aggressive goals can also compromise values.  When the goal is more important than the journey, shortcuts and rationalizations can lead to poor choices, momentary lapses in integrity, and regrettable decisions as the desired end justifies whatever means.  Shortcuts eventually find the light of day, and ethical compromises can eventually reverse all that was gained and more.

4. Loss of innovation.

Also mentioned by Daniel Pink, goals can result in such a narrow focus that creativity and innovation suffer.  Breakthrough ideas give way to brute force and rote behavior as team members devalue fresh perspective, ignore alternatives, and avoid detours that might otherwise gain valuable ground on higher order objectives.

If you’ve ever desired to grow and achieve more in your life, we won’t be surprised if you set some goals.  We don’t hate goals, and we’ve set them many times for ourselves, but beware that goal-setting is fraught with risks few people consider.  In our next post, we’ll share an alternative approach to achieving your full potential.

What has gone right and wrong with your goal-setting endeavors?