Why Goals Don’t Work
“Stop setting goals. Goals are pure fantasy unless you have a specific plan to achieve them.”
For much of my early professional life, I was a sales manager in the staffing industry. I worked in three multi-national companies and one highly robust local firm.
During those twelve years I was responsible for goal programs. I led annual, bi-annual, quarterly, monthly and weekly goal programs. I was also responsible for corporate, regional, branch and individual goal programs. Everywhere that I went, I was asking our people to discuss and give me their goals.
Without fail, five to ten percent of my sales people produced approximately ninety percent of the revenue. These elite sales professionals were too busy to participate in goal discussions. They were closing deals, running to meetings, taking a call they had been working on for months, etc.
The remaining sales people always had carefully crafted goals and projections.
Something was askew. Over time, it was becoming clear that the very concept of goals is used in widely differing ways.
My growing skepticism about goals reached a tipping point shortly before I left the staffing industry. We were encountering the most overheated real estate market in the history of Los Angeles. People flew in from other countries to join in bidding wars on properties in tony areas of the city. Some properties went up in value by 20% in one month. People were jumping into the industry. In the “Platinum Triangle” (Beverly Hills, Bel Air, Malibu) homes were going on and off the market in 24 hours.
The Los Angeles Times Magazine ran a cover story on the market. At one point, the article revealed the average income in the Platinum Triangle was $16,000. The highly publicized agents who were making 7 figure incomes were working 18 hour days, running door-to-door and living as if their hair was on fire. The rest sat in the office waiting for Caravan, possibly working on their goals.
The number one problem with virtually any type of goal program is that it is focused on the future.
The human mind offers a great deal of flexibility in telling the truth and modifying plans. To me, it seems the big pivot is whether we use our mind to seek comfort over action or to pursue what we most want and need. When we tell the truth, there is an awareness of time being precious. When we seek comfort, there is the story that we have all the time in the world.
We have been in the business of orchestrating great careers for almost 30 years. Time and time again, I have watched individuals who described their professional lives as stagnant, come to life and become willing to deal with discomfort. They shifted after defining the work that would be compelling, meaningful, and fulfilling. Clearly, personalized mission, vision, and purpose play a critical role in one’s spiritual and practical success. The connection to one’s true mission brings action into the present. But, when we are working for survival and predictability, we can put off change until accelerating external change forces us to leave.
Sadly, many in this particular group often respond with, “Get me another job, just like the one I hated.”
About a year and a half ago, I was having a physical when my Internist looked and said, “David, you don’t see many fat old people do you?” Since that moment, I have been doing whatever it takes to be as healthy as possible. Health is no longer something I place in the future. It is an ongoing and critical aspect of the moment. If I continued to put off health for six months, there would be plenty of time to slip in a bag of cookies or miss a days at the gym.
Speaking of the gym. On January 2, every single year, the place is loaded with newcomers and riffraff. Most of them are gone by February. They came in the door with goals and they left with the cold hard reality that until we clearly define what is most important in our lives, the non-negotiable if you will, the human mind will modify the behavior to avoid discomfort.
Because, tomorrow will never be here.
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