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Goal setting is important, but setting better workplace systems can play a far more effective role in achieving results. By John Burfitt
You don’t need to look too hard to find a wealth of management books and training courses that put a major emphasis on the importance of goal setting to achieve success.
Plenty of statistics are available that highlight the fundamental role of goal setting. According to a report in the Harvard Business Review, only 14 per cent of people have clear goals and those who do are 10 times more likely to be successful than those who don’t.
Yet for all the focus on goal setting, organisational psychologist Dr Amantha Imber believes this model of setting goals and working towards them is flawed, and there is a more effective way to accomplish the desired outcomes for your practice.
“It might be time to do a re-think of whether goal setting will actually get you to where you want to go,” the author of Time Wise says.
“While it’s useful to know what you want to achieve and the direction you want to take, goal setting might not actually be the best way to get you there.”
What she proposes instead is a concept that puts greater emphasis on the procedural journey, rather than the goal or final destination.
She explains that when a goal is the focus in business, a feeling of failure can persist until that goal is eventually achieved. This, she believes, can be de-motivating and exhausting for the small business owner.
“When we work towards a goal, we can potentially feel like rubbish until we achieve it because, until then, we can feel we’re in a constant state of failure,” she states. “And then when we do achieve the goal, we don’t feel a lasting sense of accomplishment because we immediately set a new goal and return to our state of failure.”
A better method, she believes, is one based on systems—working out what needs to be completed methodically every day or week in order to achieve a desired outcome.
She gives the example of generating a particular number of new clients for an upcoming business quarter. “The key lies in thinking about what daily activity will ultimately lead you to achieving the goal. Instead of making a very generic long-range goal, it becomes an activity system to be worked on every day. “When that is added up over time, the system produces the desired outcome.”
Such new systems might involve making a certain number of follow-up phone calls every day to regular patients or sending out a special offer in a weekly e-newsletter in order drive new appointments.
“If the system is an achievable one, the process becomes self-reinforcing because you can work on it every day and see the clear progress,” she says.
“Systems feel much more fulfilling, and people feel more motivated by working this way. And when our motivation increases, so does the quality of our work.”
Frontline manager to leader specialist Louise Davis believes goals are essential for business success but agrees with Dr Imber that it comes down to how a practice owner or manager treats them.
“If you are just working on a standalone goal and have not put a great deal of thought into how you will achieve it, then that way of working becomes hard,” Davis says.
She believes setting goals and establishing systems to make them a reality must work hand in hand. “Think of it this way—the goal is the ‘what’ part of the equation, and the system you will work with is the ‘how’. You need both to be clearly defined.”
Many managers operate with the SMART principle for goals—ones that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based. “But that is not enough to get human behaviour to move forward with what it is they are working towards, and this is where you need a clear system in place,” Davis says.
“Understanding why this goal is important to you provides the motivation and drive to keep you focused. That can become one of the most powerful forces when it comes to the purpose of why you are working this way.”
Choosing the system that will effectively take a practice towards an intended goal must be a key priority. Davis quotes her favourite mantra by US personal development leader, James Clear: ‘You do not rise to the level of your goals; you fall to the level of your systems.’
Davis says, “The biggest piece of advice I often share with management clients is to make sure they include a system that reviews their progress along the way. Keeping yourself accountable in terms of what’s happening, and reviewing all your wins has to be paramount.”
Not only is this important for motivation, but it also highlights what may need to be tweaked to ensure the process is working towards achieving the eventual goal.
“You need a system for reviewing progress as basic human behaviour wants us to keep focusing on what’s ahead. You need to know what you’re achieving in terms of how the system is getting you closer to the goal, otherwise you can fall into a gap of feeling like you’re not succeeding at all.”
And if something is not working, regular monitoring of the system will highlight what needs to be altered.
“This allows people to have a greater sense of success and satisfaction; it builds self-esteem and creates a much happier work environment. Progress is the key piece in working with a system when goal setting, so that a team can see the wins and understand what part they’re playing in achieving them.”