All businesses set goals – financial goals, productivity goals, expansion goals, sales goals. Most people set individual goals – weight loss, income increases, new and/or better “things”. And, as we approach every New Year many of us also set New Year’s resolutions. Here’s the problem with this…most people don’t have a clue what the purpose of a goal truly is. It’s not, as many think, to obtain anything. Yet most businesses and individuals continue to set goals under the misguided notion that doing so enables them to have more and that having more is desirable. In actuality, most goal setting activities keep businesses and individuals stuck in versions of an existing status quo and are instrumental in preventing them from truly achieving anything of note.
The true purpose of a goal is to grow not to get!
When examined honestly most of the goals we set today – whether business or personal – are set within a context of already knowing how to achieve them. They are set with a strong reference to past achievements or progress and, often times, are set in response to other’s urging – shareholder’s expectation for returns on their investment or cultural criteria for attractiveness being great examples. Goals set in this manner ensure that, at best, we achieve only incremental improvement over what we had before. Indeed, using our past as a primary reference for goal setting creates a future that is tied to that past.
If you already know how you’re going to achieve your goal there is no growth involved. At best all you’re doing is exercising and further developing a known competency. There are no new competencies being developed or capacities being expanded. The unknown is where learning and growth occurs. The unknown is uncomfortable and it’s only outside of the comfort zone that growth is possible. Goals should make you feel uncomfortable and they will if they involve growth. Goals set in this manner should be a break from what was and, done well, the goal setter will have no clue about how to achieve this kind of goal.
Setting goals in the way most people and organizations go about it keeps us stuck in a way that ensures life and work become mundane and rote. When we look at the causes of employee disengagement in the workplace (upwards of 90% according to latest Gallup surveys) lack of meaningful work ranks near the top. Human beings want to grow. We want to excel, we want to contribute in ways that allow us to feel unique and valued, we want the ways we spend our life’s energy to be meaningful. We want to have our breath taken away! Ultimately, we all want to feel exhilarated at the prospect of living inside our own skins. Well designed goals make this possible – goals that are designed to foster growth as opposed goals that are designed to acquire.
Goals designed for growth are formulated from different questions than are typically used from goals designed for acquisition. Instead of “what do I want?” being the starting point we begin with questions such as “what problem needs to be solved that would best utilize who I am?”; “how do I need to be different in order to be fully alive?”; “how do I want the world to be in 1,000 years and how do I need to be in order to have that happen?”. We don’t know how to achieve the answers to these questions because there is no single “right” answer. Knowing the answer to “how?” is a sure sign that the goal isn’t this type of goal. We grow as we attempt to come to grips with the implications of the questions – parts of me that have been under utilized begin to be relevant and I become uncomfortable. What a great way to live!