Is It Time to Stop Setting Goals?

Is it time to stop setting goals?
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Is it time to stop setting goals?

We’ve all been told how important it is to set goals in business. My bookshelf is full of books exhorting me to write S.M.A.R.T. goals on a monthly, quarterly, annual and even 5-year basis.

But where is all this goal setting getting us?

I have to confess that when I started writing this article I thought this headline would be a little cheeky but in the end I would write an article about how to set better goals.

Then I started doing some research. It turns out there is evidence that goal setting has some unintended negative consequences that are overlooked in the gung ho efforts to set bigger and better goals.

In the Harvard Business School report Goals Gone Wild, researchers looked at many examples of how goal setting has had unintended, negative results.

Case in point is the Ford Pinto. Lee Iacocca had set a goal of building a car under $2,000 that weighed less than 2,000 pounds. While this challenging goal was met, safety measures were overlooked and omitted in order to do so. The result was the infamous exploding gas tanks that resulted in 53 deaths.

The specific goals were met at the expense of safety, ethics and the company’s reputation.

Other Problems With Goals

Goals that are  too narrow can cause you to hyper-focus and overlook important information or events just because they don’t fit into the goal. It can result in achieving short term goals while ignoring a long-term harm to your business.

Another unintended side effect of goals is the tendency to treat them as ceilings. If you reach your goal early, there may be the temptation to coast. This is particularly true if revenue goals are for too short a time span.

The Positive Side of Goal Setting

One down side of the research in Goals Gone Wild was they were looking at larger organizations. What about goal setting for solopreneurs and microbusinesses?

Goals do have a positive side – they allow you to focus on what’s important and give a way to measure success. As a solopreneur I need some way of measuring my progress as I don’t have a boss giving me a thumbs up or thumbs down.

The Solution

I believe the solution is multifaceted. When we do set goals there needs to be two types – outcome goals and performance goals.Is it time to stop setting goals?

Often outcome goals are outside of your control. If you have a specific weekly sales goal, what happens if the people you need to speak with are out of town? What if a snow storm prevents everyone from going into work? What if you get the flu? You don’t hit your goal for this week. If this happens once you can shake it off. But if this happens several weeks in a row you become discouraged.

Performance goals on the other hand are completely within your control. These are goals based on specific actions you take. Make five LinkedIn updates, comment on three blogs, make ten phone calls. You can make a decision to achieve the performance goals and outside influences won’t change that.

But performance goals alone won’t cut it either. You can make ten phone calls but if you’re speaking with the wrong people or aren’t saying the right things you won’t make the sales.

And business, in the end, is about profits. If you aren’t selling you have a hobby.

What you need to do instead is set performance goals in combination with outcome goals. Set the outcome you want to achieve then set the performance goals you need to achieve to get to the outcome.

Another thing to consider is making your outcome goals a dart board rather than a finish line. If your goal is a finish line it’s all or nothing. A dart board goal gives you some wiggle room. Yes, it’s nice to hit the bull’s-eye but you don’t expect to do it every time.


Do you have your marketing plan for 2015? If not, please join me for a free webinar “3 New Year’s Marketing Resolutions You Can Actually Keep” on Tuesday, January 6th, 2015 at 2 p.m. eastern. Hope to see you there! Click here for more information.





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