What’s wrong with goal-setting?

By Kenneth W. Christian, Ph.D.

Howard approached me at the close of a recent speaking engagement to say that he was not making the kind of progress he wanted with his team and wondered if I might have some ideas. We talked a bit and it was soon clear that he was experiencing other dissatisfactions.

I said, “Howard, how do you want things to be?” He paused then said, “Well my goal is to move up in the company…”

I pressed him for details, wanting him to flesh out what he wanted and also what he meant by “moving up.”

I was not sure whether he wanted to see improvement in his team out of a passion for accomplishing certain objectives or due to a sense of mission or was improved team performance a means to his moving up?

It sounded vague.

Well, it was vague. The conversation stalled there.

But what kept ringing in my ears was the intonation he used with the word “goal.” He put a kind of emphasis on the word that was precisely equal to what someone would use if they were saying, “Well, what I’m supposed to say is…”

Moments later, Trisha introduced herself, gave me her card, and said that in the last year she was not progressing the way she wanted with her career.

I asked her questions about what she wanted. She said her goal was to double her income over a five year period of time. She was actually up 15% from where she started two years ago and in fact it was hard to tell for a moment whether she wasn’t pretty proud of that given the economy. But it was not what her goal was.

Now it hit me that any number of people in the audience for my talk had come to an open microphone and in some way spoken of their goals as if they were anything but real destinations they were going to reach.

Listen folks.

Talking about goals won’t get you there any more than going to church will get you to heaven.

If you do not passionately believe in where you are going, don’t give goal-setting a bad name by using the word goal to describe listless me-too-ism.

A goal has to be a real destination at which you not only aspire to arrive but for which you make every preparation and expend every effort.

Stop mimicking words.

Stop using language without meaning it or knowing what you are saying.

A goal is a destination.

Do you ever set out for Chicago and cheerily say “Well I almost made it?”

(Only if you were hitchhiking or smoking something.)

Do you ever board a plane for Milan and say “Well, we got three-quarters of the way there!” like that was good?

If your plane doesn’t reach your destination, do you make excuses for the airline?

No. Don’t do it for yourself either.

Stop settling for approximations to goals and stop accepting weenie progress.

To really make progress toward your goals you have to stop setting goals because everybody else is.

Goal-setting is not “good” if you do not back up your words with resolve and unequivocal intention.

What’s wrong with elevator speeches..

You know what you heard. You are supposed to have a 15 second canned pitch you can give to someone on an elevator and this is going to gain you business. Sometimes people refer to this elevator speech with the euphemism “unique value proposition.”

Well I can only tell you when everyone spouts 15 second commercials “unique” is not one of the words that will come to mind for you or your value proposition.

And besides, have you ever been trapped on a plane next door to someone who starts off with an elevator speech?

Or have you ever been on an elevator at a National Speakers’ Association conference and heard people fighting to fire off their 15 second blurbs between floors?

Appalling. The most unnatural conversation you could possibly hear and in all likelihood repellant to all but the kind of client you might least like to have.

You do not make progress with either your career or your business using gimmicks, be they reciting goals and affirmations you do not believe, or sounding like a canned sound bite left over from computerized telemarketing.

Knowing how to describe your services clearly and succinctly is an excellent exercise in thinking clearly.

Brevity and clarity are usually appreciated. But drop the notion of pouncing and immediately running your mouth.

Engage in real conversations with people about things that matter to both of you.

What’s wrong with mission statements..

What’s wrong with mission statements? They’re boring. Boring to write, boring to read. You want an exercise in falling asleep?

Read a bunch of mission statements. Have you ever read one that inspired you? If you have, I want to hear from you.

Yet I see them everywhere on the walls of the halls of business.

When people need to write a mission statement could anything be more obvious than that they have lost track of what they are doing and why?

If it takes you more than a few seconds’ reflection to write yours something is wrong and the thing that is wrong will take more than a written mission statement to repair.

What I am saying is completely obvious. Think about it. Where effort is put into mission statements, no passion exists, no sense of purpose, and no one has a clue as to the intrinsic value of what they are doing.

This is the recipe for an underachieving organization or team.

Writing a mission statement at other than the beginning is like deciding an itinerary for your mission after the rocket has left the pad.

If you do not know what you are doing and why it is for sure that doo-doo is deep and big efforts will be needed to clean things up.

The problem with mission statements is that they have become one more monkey see, monkey do business fad. The world needs every ounce of creativity we have to give, not blind adherence to what everyone else is doing.

People who already know what they are doing don’t have to spend five months with high priced consultants grinding away at consensus for the language of their mission statements.

Here is a mission statement. It is free and anyone can use it. “Change the world.”

Six ways to improve your productivity

So what do you do if you want to make progress? Systematic effort.

1. Set destination-style long-range goals.

2. Break goals down into projects.

3. Break projects down into tasks.

4. Break tasks down into specific action steps.

5. Buy OnTask Software, the program that simplifies staying on task with the goals that lead to real progress.

6. Use OnTask software to help you stay on task by providing a software program for setting and managing goals, tracking their progress and breaking goals down into projects, tasks and specific action steps.

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OnTask is an application by Kenneth Christian – sign up for his Ultimate Success Blueprint free videos to learn more about his programs.

From DEFYING GRAVITY: Resources for going beyond the next level – a free monthly newsletter by Kenneth W. Christian, Ph.D., from his site Maximum Potential Project.

More articles by Kenneth Christian.

Video: How to Change your Life: 4 Secret Steps to Successful Change

Kenneth W. Christian, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist “whose sole focus for the last twenty years has been helping individuals, parents, educators and organizations and their leaders remove limitations and maximize potential.”

He is founder of the Maximum Potential Project and author of the book Your Own Worst Enemy: Breaking the Habit of Adult Underachievement, and co-author, with Dianne Hales, of An Invitation to Personal Change.

He notes about his new program, Ultimate Success Blueprint, “People who must consistently perform at their peak, performance after performance, prepare for their performances with distinctive routines that cue optimal focus, presence, energy and attention.”

Get free access to his training videos at the site:

Ultimate Success Blueprint

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