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Your Goals Are A Waste Of Time

by Jeremy Nulik

By the time you read this, we will already be at least a month into 2017. And my assumption is that you will have already fallen short of your resolutions. We do this to ourselves often. Not just in our personal lives but in business as well. We create expectations, and in doing so, we create the recipe for shame.

I propose to you that this is a function of the tools themselves. In theory, what we hope to achieve with goals is some form of calibration. We want something tangible toward which we can aspire. However, when this theory meets reality, humans make a mess. If I were prone to believe conspiracy theories, I may even posit that shame is a design of the tool and not a flaw. Because there is nothing human about setting external, mechanical measures of your organization. Among the reasons why goals are a waste of time:

1. You set goals because you think you are supposed to. By their nature, goals are an area ripe for passive-aggressive creative nonfiction. We set goals because we were told to. So, under compulsion, their existence is arbitrary at best.

2. If they have any aspiration, your goals are not achievable. This leads to a doom loop or hypocritical behaviors like erasing “2016” at the top of the document and making it read “2017.” This is deflating to you and your team.

3. You don’t actually manage external outcomes. You can work hard to manipulate the circumstances that surround your business in an effort to achieve a goal, but you have no control of the future or the market or how your employees feel about you. The items that are usually the fodder for goals are outside of your true influence.

4. We jump to goals when there is a lack of vision. As of late, there is a love affair in the business world with strategic planning – an art form that is valuable. However, planning and goal setting are only meaningful in the context of a compelling vision. Otherwise this practice would be making mortar without sand.

“Dilbert” creator Scott Adams is perhaps the most strident in his assessment of goals. In his book “How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big,” Adams claims “goals are for losers.” Instead of focusing on goals, Adams implores readers to instead create systems that improve their chances at success. This posture is compelling because it focuses less on the external and more on what behaviors will change you, your team and thus the world around you.

As an example, growth of revenue is a common goal. What you did not account for, however, was the statically unlikely market dip for your largest customer or for illness striking your business development leader. These are elements outside your management. And, honestly, so is revenue.

With the same desire, you can set in motion a set of habits – the ones most likely to generate the percentage of increase in revenue you desire. These can be as simple as calling on three former clients every week or, God forbid, reading some book every month to sharpen your leadership. These are achievable and simple and can be completed regardless of circumstances. If you can find the winning habits for your business, you can create agility and a language for your team that is compelling and keeps everyone challenged. That posture leads to increases in revenue.

The list of winning habits is ubiquitous. And it is so because it is the way humans actually learn and achieve. But a great place to start would be Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” (Note that it is not titled “The 7 Plots and Schemes of Highly Manipulative People.”) Get out of the shame loop and create a daily list of wins you and your team can celebrate. You will create business results beyond what you can mechanically manufacture in a planning meeting.

Jeremy Nulik ( is evangelist prime at bigwidesky, a human business consultancy, in St. Louis, Mo.

Submitted 4 years 74 days ago
Categories: categoryMarketing Works
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