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Is There a Downside to Setting Goals?

I recently read an article about the downside of setting goals. To me, someone who has always abided by the virtue of goal setting—and, more specifically, the value of setting SMART goals (specific, measureable, attainable, realistic, and time-bounded goals)—this was heresy! What could the downside be?

Resolutions vs. Real Goals
Without these, reaching your goal is likely more luck than anything else. But setting both personal and business goals that are well thought out is something I’ve always preached, as well as subscribed to personally, throughout my own career.

What Could Go Wrong?
So what could be the downside of goal setting? There are a couple of concepts related to goal setting that cause concern.

First, if goals are too absolute, a “failure syndrome” can occur. For example, let’s say I’m not used to exercising, and I set a goal that I want to exercise 40 minutes every day in 2016. But then I only exercise 40 minutes four times a week. Most people would hardly consider that a failure, but it is a failure to meet my exact goal and might discourage me from further efforts for fear of additional failure.

The failure syndrome can be avoided by setting a realistic goal and a separate stretch goal, or by setting a goal range. Using the example above, if I change the goal to say that in 2016 I want to exercise three to seven times per week for 48–52 weeks, I have established a feasible range. Fear of failure becomes less of a reason not to set goals and more of an excuse to avoid seriously thinking about the direction I want to move in and what range of change I seek.

A second downside to goal setting is that goals might incline people to be overly focused on future results at the expense of present-day opportunities along the way. In fact, many people live in the past or the future and miss the whole concept of living in the present. Focusing on a particular goal for the future can blind them to an opportunity right under their nose that might not have existed at the time the goal was set.

To counter that, I would argue that you could either acknowledge that you have set the wrong goal or recognize that there is a new opportunity available. It seems like the logical thing to do is simply to change that goal and move on.

Goals for Business
Business planning starts with envisioning the future and ultimately driving toward those goals that align the present with where you are heading in business. If there is a downside to business goal setting, it might be that goals become like trees in the proverbial forest. If you get too hung up on your goals (trees), it is easy to forget about the vision (the forest). The reality is that you need to be cognizant of both simultaneously to succeed.

Joni Youngwirth_2014 for webJoni Youngwirth
Managing Principal of Practice Management
Commonwealth Financial Network
Waltham, Mass.

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Taking the First Step

As we begin a new year, it’s no surprise that many financial advisers have mapped out the goals they would like to accomplish over the next twelve months. The easy part is knowing what those goals are; the harder aspect is actually planning out the tasks and activities needed to reach those goals. It’s been said that “The journey of thousand miles begins with a single step,” and many advisers have the best intentions as a new year commences, yet many fail to even take that first step in making those goals happen for themselves.

Let’s take a look at what it takes to set up and actually realize your goals by year-end.

  • Set and Clarify Your Goals: Goal setting is a relatively easy to-do but clarifying your goals so that they are quantifiable and measurable is much more difficult. One way to do this is to use the G.R.O.W model, which stands for Goal, Reality, Obstacles (or Options) and Way forward. When you use this model, you will find you are much clearer about what it will take to reach your desired outcomes.
  • Compartmentalize Your Daily Actions: Once you have solidified your goals and written out your G.R.O.W model, it’s time to compartmentalize your daily actions. This will help you determine what your first steps should be. Having just one or two steps to focus on can mean the difference between taking action and just thinking about taking action. Remember, a goal without a plan is a wish.
  • Create Time Horizons: Now it’s time to create a time horizon for your activities. The best way to do this is to literally set your to-do items as appointments in your contact management system. So, if your first action step is to start prospecting, make sure that you set a reminder to do that consistently at the same time each day. When the reminder pops up, set aside what you are doing and be sure to do the task. It is very typical to get distracted and push our tasks aside and tell ourselves we will get to them later. It is also very typical that when we do that, the activity rarely gets completed. So get into the habit of attending to a task once you have it scheduled.
  • Get Leverage to Take Action: Finally, put some “skin in the game” by finding an accountability partner or a person who holds you accountable every day to ensure that action actually takes place. By being accountable to each other, you both are more likely to keep moving forward in the right direction. One way to leverage your success is to assign a reward or punishment to accomplishing or not accomplishing your daily actions.

It’s the Journey not the Destination
Hopefully, by now you’ve realized that taking steps—especially that first one—is merely a process. And by taking each subsequent step, you continue the process. However, it is important to note that if you are only focused on the destination you will miss out on the journey, which is where the learning and growing always occurs.

If you read this blog and need help mapping out your steps to success, email Melissa Denham, director of client servicing at melissa@advisorsolutionsinc.com to schedule a free complimentary 30-minute coaching session with Dan Finley.

Dan FinleyDaniel C. Finley
Advisor Solutions
St. Paul, Minn.