When you set all of those goals, can you at least make them meaningful?

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It seems today there is a constant mantra being propagated about getting super productive, setting measurable stretch goals, and busting a gut to get them accomplished. I can just hear the likes of entrepreneurship gurus like Gary V now, “F**k yes, make it happen!” But, in contrast to the overused and overstated “what gets measured gets done” pablum, some things, really important things, aren’t so simply measured but yet need to, absolutely must, be done.

Consider this quote from the book It Doesn’t Have To Be Crazy At Work by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (DHH):

How about something really audacious: No targets, no goals. You can absolutely run a great business without a single goal. You don’t need something fake to do something real. And, if you must have a goal, how about just staying in business; or, serving your customers well; or, being a delightful place to work. Just because these goals are harder to quantify does not make them any less important.

Now, while I agree with Fried and DHH in many ways here, I’m not suggesting you give up goals and goal setting altogether. Goals do have some benefits. They give us what Stephen Covey calls ‘an end in mind’ or finish line to shoot for. They give us something to celebrate when we get there, and they can provide motivation to drive improvement or growth.

However, many business goals seem arbitrary and are communicated without context. In other words, they often have no discernible ‘why.’ For example, how often have you heard something like “our sales goal this year is to increase revenue by 10%”? I know that when many people hear this stuff, their first thought is, “Why? If we’ve been doing fine with the revenue we’ve been bringing in, why do we need a 10% increase, and why 10%? Why not 9% or 11%?” As some might shudder in horror thinking it obvious why revenue must always be increased and murmur under their breath that the only real ‘why’ is the push forward to be number one. My first response would be that the whole ‘number one’ thing is a myth. Business isn’t a sport, there’s no table of standings. Besides, what’s the criteria? Most revenue? Highest EBITDA? Most retained customers? Best service scores? The list is long and the concept absurd. So, again we must ask, why the constant push for higher and higher, more and more, better and better? The point is this, it’s not the goals that are the problem, it’s the lack of meaning. If goals are without meaningful context, they are a pointless exercise in moving the dial to move the dial.

However, what if, as Fried and DHH suggest, we provide that meaning? What if, instead of increasing revenue by 10%, we make it, increase revenue by 10% in order to invest in leadership training to improve employee engagement? Now we have meaningful context. Now we have something to work for, something that benefits fellow employees and inspires team performance rather than siloed performance. What if all of those sales, service, cost-management, and other performance goals had meaning beyond simply growing to grow or hitting a higher number? Doesn’t it make sense? Isn’t it more inspiring? And wouldn’t more inspiration benefit everyone?

So, what about your workplace? How about, instead of a bunch of arbitrary targets that are higher every year/quarter/month for the sake of being higher, some clear goals that ultimately serve the purpose of consistently delivering a great customer experience; or, taking good care of employees; or, growing the company in order to share the “art” you produce/provide/deliver with more people? Goals for goal’s sake are meaningless, goals in service of a worthwhile purpose are inspiring – and ultimately are the things worth busting a gut for. To that I say, “F**k yes, make it happen!”

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