January thoughts: Musings on the perils of goal-setting
January is the month when we pack away our decorations and think about the exciting potential of the year ahead. It stretches away from us like a blank page. And as any writer knows, a blank page can be terrifying. So, where to start with conquering this year? In business and life, all motivational books tell us to set goals. This makes sense, because…
"If you don't know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else." –Lawrence J. Peter
So what goals should we be setting ourselves, and how, if we want to reach them? Or is reaching them not the point? Are they more intended to be a general guideline of your direction, rather than something you should expect to attain? As Les Brown said: "Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars." Is that what we should be aiming for?
The problem of setting goals for the wrong reasons
Sometimes we set ourselves goals because we have to and because we have to hit them. And in professional life, there can be consequences to not meeting them. If you are working in an environment where your career advancement is predicated on hitting the goals that you set yourself, then the temptation is to scale back that big scary goal into something more achievable. I know I’ve certainly done that. This is particularly true if you’re setting SMART goals and have actual targets to reach. Inevitably, in a corporate environment, goals are also set in a rush around review season and it’s just one more thing on your to-do list so you set goals that you think will make your manager happy and that will get you the promotion and pay rise if that’s an option for you. They might not even be the right goals for you or your business– but that doesn’t matter, because you know you can hit them.
In marketing, the most effective way to set marketing goals is to create ones that align with your business goals. If your marketing isn’t driving business performance, it’s just decoration and if the metrics you use to measure it aren’t aligned with what you’re trying to achieve in your business, they’re just vanity metrics.
Thought-starter: Why are you setting these goals? What purpose do they serve? Are your marketing goals aligned with your business goals?
The disappointment of unattained goals
The problem with goals is that in our heads we don’t like not reaching them. For some people, this can be a motivator to do better next time, and for others, it means they give up. And if failing at your goals means you give up, maybe you need a different approach to goal-setting. Maybe you take the Les Brown approach and set wildly ambitious goals, but if you even get close, you’ll be over the moon.
Thought-starter: Is it more helpful for you to have goals that direct you or ones that you can hit?
The danger of setting vague goals
Everybody who knows about them loves a SMART goal. Or hates them. SMART goals are a way of making your goals super precise so that you know when you’ve hit them. The problem with setting vague goals like “make more money”, is that they don’t mean anything. SMART goals are:
Specific – What exactly will you do?
Measurable – What data will you measure the goal by?
Achievable – Is it achievable
Relevant – Why does it matter?
Time-Bound – What timeframe will you do it in?
A SMART goal is: I want to increase the reach of my Facebook posts on my company page by 50% within 6 months to raise awareness of my company.
A SMART goal is not: I want more people to see my Facebook posts.
SMART goals can force you to get real with yourself about exactly what you will do and what that will help you achieve. If you don’t achieve the goal, being this specific can help you work out if the goal you set was wrong, or if you didn’t execute it well.
Thought-starter: Are my goals precise enough that I will know when I have reached them?
The folly of setting goals that you don’t act on
The worst goals are the ones you think about and write down, but don’t do anything about. Those are the most pointless. Once you have your goals you need a strategy and you need a system to keep you on track. You have identified WHAT you want to do, now you need to focus on HOW. And you need to get specific. If you don’t work out exactly what you need to do to get to your goals, regularly, then you’re probably not going to get there. Manifesting will only get you so far.
Thought-starter: Do you have a plan to reach your goals? Do you know what actions you need to take on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis to get there?
The dilemma of keeping your goals to yourself
Are you someone who needs external accountability or do you hate to be seen to fail? Different people have different sources of motivation. Some people need an external person to be on their case to reach their goals. Other people hate that. I have always put a lot of pressure on myself and if other people start to pressure me, I either buckle or push back and get angry with them for putting pressure on me. As a small business owner, I am a hard boss on myself. I know other people who thrive on reaching their goals in community and love being part of masterminds where they share their goals and help each other reach them. Each to their own – make sure you understand what will help not hinder you and do that.
Thought-starter: Would it help you to tell someone about your goals to help you reach them?
The debate around goal timeframes
At the moment, I’m listening to the book “The 12 Week Year” by Brian Moran and Michael Lennington. The basic premise is that annual goals are unhelpful because we give ourselves too much leeway early in the year and probably won’t hit our goals because we don’t have the urgency and granularity to do so. I find this a novel idea and I might try it. I will probably still set annual goals (because I pay my taxes annually), but 12 weeks could be a good period to try to achieve specific goals over.
Another method of goal-setting is to work in sprints. I don’t know much about working in sprint formats so I’ll leave the advice on that to other people, but I know that format of working works well in the tech industry for product development and might have applications elsewhere.
Ultimately, I believe that goals should help you progress, so set them in a way that works for you. Goals should exist to help you do better, not be arbitrary benchmarks that make you feel bad or reasons to give up. If you’re fortunate enough to run your own business, why not try out some different ways of setting goals to find the one that motivates you and results in success?
If you have your goals in place for your marketing and a strategy to reach them, I have some hacks to help you reach your goals and stick to your resolutions.