Successful people often mention the importance of goal-setting. They tend to note how goals motivate, inspire and enable them to break through to new heights of achievement. Why, then, don't more of us set goals? Generally speaking, it’s because we're afraid of failing. After public speaking, fear of failure is second on most peoples' list of greatest fears.

People who have goals excel more often than those who don't. Additionally, people who write down their goals outperform those whose goals are not in writing. Taken one step further, people who write down their goals AND share them with other people perform the best. Why is that? Simply put, while our goals may consist of our personal aspirations, we don't typically achieve our goals alone. Often, we need help to accomplish the goals we set. At think2perform, we call those supporting people “enablers.” Our personal enablers have a vested interest in our goal achievement. Enablers can be family members, close friends, colleagues, supervisors, or anyone else with whom we regularly interact.

"Simply put, while our goals may consist of our personal aspirations, we don't typically achieve our goals alone."

A goal isn’t truly a goal unless it’s SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-Based and Time-Bound. For example, “lose weight” isn’t a goal. However, “lose 20 pounds in six months” meets the SMART criteria for goals. “Lose 20 pounds” is specific, measurable and results-based, while “in six months” adds a time-bound element to the goal.

Yet, there's more you need to know to be a great goal achiever…

Here's the secret: people who regularly set AND achieve goals focus on performing their “key activities.” Key activities are the tasks we must accomplish to achieve a goal. Achievement follows the law of cause and effect: Key activities are the “cause” and our goals are the effect, results or desired outcome. To achieve our goals, we need to focus on the actions we can control – our key activities.

Key activities drive the outcome of every goal. Take health, for example. If you want to lose 20 pounds in six months, three key activities will help you achieve your goal: diet, exercise and rest. To reach your goal, you must quantify how much you’ll need to perform each key activity. After you identify and quantify the key activities associated with your goals, do more of those key activities to help you reach them.

After quantifying your key activities, ask yourself the final and most important question: “Am I willing to do them?” At think2perform, we call this the Acid Test question.

If you answer “yes” to the Acid Test question, then you have a goal. If you answer "no,” then you likely just have a dream, not a goal.

Consider a business example: Suppose Company X wants to hit a determined revenue target next year. To help achieve that objective, Company X's executive team identifies the market share gain required for the target. Then, the executive team divides the firm-wide objective among business units, departments and regions so that everyone in the firm knows what they need to do to hit the goal.

The problem is, that's where many companies stop. Hitting a revenue target or acquiring clients are results,  but we can't control results –we can only control activities. 

To increase the odds of Company X hitting its goal, the executive team needs to go one step further. They need to identify the key activities that have the best chance of increasing revenue. Those activities could include acquiring new customers or selling more to existing customers.

The next questions to address are:

  • "How do we do that?"
  • "What are the activities we must accomplish to attract more customers or sell more to our existing customers?"
  • "How much of each of those activities must we do? Who's going to do them?"

The final question then becomes, “Are we willing to do them?”

Once Company X’s executive team has those answers, the odds of goal achievement increase dramatically.

Goal achievement – not goal setting – depends on controlling direction and throwing off discouragement. There is no such thing as a perfect plan, and adjustments must be made along the way to account for changes in effectiveness. 

That's the secret. As a firm, team or individual, we have to 1) have a goal, 2) know our key activities, 3) know how much of each activity we must do AND 4) we have to be willing to do them.

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The opinions and forecasts expressed are those of the author and individuals quoted and should not be construed as a recommendation or as complete.

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