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Why do so many goals end up in failure?

Posted by Murphy, Mark at Saturday, 12/29/2012 12:14 pm
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3.0 from 70 votes
A Q&A with CEO Mark Murphy

Q: Why do so many goals end up in failure?

Many corporations have formal goal-setting systems, like SMART Goals, to help employees develop and track their goals. But a big part of the problem as to why those goals are not being realized is that people and organizations get so hung up on making sure their goal-setting forms are filled out correctly, checking and double checking that their goals are realistic and achievable, that they neglect to answer the single most important question: Is this goal even worth it? And then, if it is ‘worth it,’ if it is a goal worthy of the challenges and opportunities we face, we next need to ask: How do we sear this goal into our minds, make it so critical to our very existence that no matter what obstacles we encounter, we will not falter in our pursuit of this goal? That’s why Leadership IQ teaches HARD Goals.

Q: Why do HARD Goals work?

MM: Leadership IQ research found a distinguishing characteristic in the people who set and achieve extraordinary goals. And it isn’t daily habits, or raw intellect, or how many numbers you can write on a worksheet that defines that success. It’s actually the engagement of your brain. When your brain is humming with a goal, as happens with HARD Goals, everything you need to take your goal and run with it falls into place. But when your brain is ho-hum about your goals, all the daily rituals and discipline in the world won’t help you succeed.

The way to achieve any goal (health, financial, career, business, etc.) is to seek HARD goals—so whether you set a goal to save money, lose weight, hit a sales target or invent better products, every goal you set has to meet the following criteria:

Heartfelt—you’ve got to have an emotional attachment to your goal; it has to scratch an existential itch.
Animated—goals need to be motivated by a vision, picture or movie that plays over and over in your mind.
Required—it needs to feel so urgently necessary that you have no other choice but to start acting on them right here, right now.
Difficult—goals need to drag you out of your comfort zone, activating your senses and attention.

Q: That’s quite different from SMART Goals, generally defined as: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-Limited. What do you say to someone who says, “But everyone else is using SMART Goals, why shouldn’t I?”

MM: Look, from Einstein to Bill Gates to the late, great Steve Jobs, the greatest thinkers and leaders in history saw opportunities that others didn’t see. The people who achieve the extraordinary don’t just use the same warmed-over ideas as everyone else and they don’t just do what everyone else is doing. They are bold and they do what is right for them, and part of that is in how they set and go after their goals.

Steve Jobs made a career out of doing extraordinary things that quite frequently others said couldn’t be done, and trust me, no goal he ever set would pass the Achievable and Realistic test for a SMART Goal. He had the courage to change his mind, to say “this isn’t working for me” and to try something new.

Lots of leaders and organizations say they want to take the world by storm, to create the next iPod or whatever great thing it is, but then they go right back to running things like they’ve always done. And if you do things the same way they’ve always been done, you’re going to keep getting the same results.

Too often SMART Goals act as impediments to, not enablers of, bold action, and actually encourage mediocre and poor performance. “Hold on a minute,” SMART goals seem to say. “Don’t push beyond your resources, don’t bite off more than you can chew, play it safe and stay within your limitations.” Even a factor like Specific, which sounds okay, can suck the life out of goals. For most people Specific means turn your goal into a number and jot it down (e.g. I want to lose a specific weight, like 27 pounds, or meet a specific sales target, or whatever).

But that definition of “specific” pales in comparison to the intensely-pictured Animated goals of achievers like Jobs and others. Sure they’ve got a number, but they also know what their body looks like 27 pounds from now, what clothes they’ll be wearing, even how they’ll feel when they no longer carry the weight. For them, 27 pounds isn’t an abstract concept or a number on a form; it’s a vision into the future that feels so real, it’s as if it’s already happened. And SMART Goals just don’t do that. However, there are steps you can take to make SMART Goals more powerful.

Q: As leaders and organizations head into 2013 what goal-setting advice can you offer them?

MM: It’s a truly unsettling world right now. But we all know that denial, blame, excuses and anxiety are not going to make it any better. We need to harness the energy of this moment, scary though it may be, and turn it into greatness. Whether we’re going to grow our company, lose weight, run a marathon or change the whole darn world, we’re going to have to saddle up a HARD Goal and ride that sucker at a full gallop.

Too many leaders say “I have had this training,” whether it’s SMART Goals or something else, and that’s where they stay, indefinitely, even if it falls short of inspiring themselves and their employees to be more effective and to constantly reach for better and better results. Don’t be afraid to ask, “Is what I’m doing getting the best results?” And if it’s not, if you’re not getting the results you want, or you just keep getting the same results over and over again, then dare to debunk the standard practices that aren’t working for you and try something different.

Get started on your HARD Goals by attending our webinar Beyond SMART Goals. Learn how to push yourself and your people to achieve the extraordinary, even in the toughest of times.

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