Why We Abandon Our Goals: Part OneBy Marshall Goldsmith on June 21, 2012 in Thought Leadership
This is the first in a three-part series.
Most New Year’s resolutions seldom last through January — much less for the entire year! So what goes wrong?
Research on goal-setting has helped us better understand two key areas of concern for business leaders and managers:
- Why people give up on goals
- How effective goal-setting can help ensure long-term goal achievement.
An understanding of the dynamics of goal-setting and goal achievement may help leaders understand how they can increase the odds that their clients will “stick with the plan” and reach desired targets.
Own Your Goals
“I wasn’t sure that this coaching idea would work in the first place. I tried it out – it didn’t do that much good. As I guessed, this was kind of a waste of time!”
One of the biggest mistakes in all of leadership development is the roll-out of programs and initiatives with the promise that “this will make you better.”
A classic example is the performance appraisal process. Many companies change their performance appraisal forms on a regular basis. How much good does this usually do? None! These appraisal form changes just confuse leaders and are seen as annual exercises in futility. What companies don’t want to face is the real problem: managers who lack either the courage or the discipline to make the appraisal process work.
Successful people tend to have a high need for self-determination. In other words, the more that leaders commit to coaching and behavior change because they believe in the process, the more the process is likely to work. The more they feel that the process is being imposed upon them or that they are just casually “trying it out” – the less likely the coaching process is to work.
Companies that have the greatest success in helping leaders achieve long-term change have learned a great lesson: don’t work with leaders who don’t “buy in” to the process.
In goal-setting, managers need to ensure that the change objectives come from “inside” the person being coached and are not just externally imposed with no clear internal commitment. Managers need to let employees know that they are ultimately responsible for their own careers. We are there to help them do the work — not to do the work for them.
Completing Goals Takes Time
“I had no idea that this process would take so long. I am not sure that it is worth it!”
Goal-setters have a natural tendency to underestimate the time needed to reach targets. Everything seems to take longer than we think that it should! When the time elapsed in working toward our goal starts exceeding expectations, we are tempted to just give up on the goal. Busy, impatient leaders can be even more time-sensitive than the general population.
Recent research shows that the long-term follow-up and involvement of co-workers tends to be highly correlated with changed perceptions of leaders. This is not something that is accomplished overnight. Harried executives often want to “check the box” and assume that once they understand what to do — and communicate this understanding to others — their problems are solved. If only the real world were that simple.
In general, our behavior changes long before the perception of this change by our co-workers. While the “optimism bias” about time is true of goal-setters in general, it may be even more of a factor for leaders who are trying to change the perceptions of co-workers. We all tend to see people in a manner that is consistent with our previous stereotype – and we “look” for behavior that proves our stereotype is correct. Co-workers are no different than anyone else.
In setting goals it is important to be realistic about the time needed for them to produce a positive, long-term change in behavior. Habits that have taken years to develop will not go away in a week.
Let people know that others’ perceptions may seem “unfair” and that as they change behavior, others may not fully recognize this change for months. In this way when they face time challenges they will not feel like there is something “wrong” with them or with their co-workers. They will realize that this is a normal part of the change process. Ultimately, as the research shows, perceptions will begin to change and co-workers will begin to appreciate changed leadership behavior.
What are some strategies you’ve found that lead to effective goal setting?