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Habits Are More Powerful Than Goals


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The first step toward success is having a goal. Yet, many people with goals failed to reach them. Here are a few ideas for your business plan to help you question your own goalsetting and get on your way for the next twelve months.

Focus on activities that will save you effort later. In his book The One Thing, Gary Keller shows you how to accomplish significantly more by consistently asking what actions you can take that will reduce or eliminate effort in the future. The effects of doing a little extra work today that will eliminate the need to perform some similar future task repetitively are like compounding interest, with similar exponential benefits. Rather than asking “what actions do we need to move us in this direction?” Keller might have you ask “what can we do today so that the work it takes to get to the goal is reduced or eliminated?”

Set goals for what you can control. Let’s say you want to increase your assets under management by 20%, Should that increase be your goal? I argue that it should not be because there are so many things outside your influence that affect those asset levels. If the market goes up 20% does that mean you did a great job? Of course not. If you transferred in assets that represent 25% of your beginning of year assets and the market fell 10%, does that mean you did a bad job? As an alternative to the end-product type of goal, try making activity goals. Determine the future you want – say it is to increase your assets by 20% – and then strategize how you will attract those assets. It may be seminars. Maybe it is systematically asking for introductions to clients’ LinkedIn connections. Whatever you decide to do, determine how much of that activity it should take. And that becomes the goal. Conduct 6 seminars this quarter. Ask three clients a week for an introduction. The point is that the activity is the goal. The goal is entirely under your control. And you can achieve it a lot more frequently than once a quarter. You will need to evaluate if the activity is generating the desired outcome. If you anticipated that you would need to ask for three introductions to get one and every four introductions would yield a client, measure as you go. You may find that your assumptions are a little off and you will need to adjust your activity level. The point is that the goal is an activity rather than an outcome.

Evaluate progress frequently. Some firms I coach have me conduct a quarterly (or even less frequent) session with advisors. If the goals are not revisited between those sessions, we don’t usually see much progress. Others follow up our group coaching with monthly or even weekly check-ins. In The Great Game of Business, Jack Stack describes his company’s weekly staff meeting lovingly named the Great Huddle. Everyone who is responsible for delivering some statistic of performance reports their result. In public. Every week. People are regularly reminded of their goal. It is never far from their mind. Most important, they talk about it leading up to the Huddle. They discuss it afterward. If they missed it, there is conversation about what they will do to get back on track. Managing performance is a whole separate topic. The point is your plan should include how often you measure progress.

Determine what you will stop doing. You likely have a full schedule. Your staff probably doesn’t have lots of down time. If you want the future to be different than today (which is the point of a strategic plan), you need to make room for the new things you will do. Spend some time considering what activities you or your staff perform that do not contribute value to your process, to the company, or to your clients, and drop them.

Take action. In a planning meeting last week, a business partner charitably observed of me “you are a planner.” By which he meant I have a habit of spending so much time figuring out what to do I don’t leave enough time to actually accomplish what we want. A friend of mine is a management consultant who likes to say “get 60% of the way there” when running planning meetings. Don’t worry about having every detail worked out. Have a vision. Develop a strategy. Take action. Debrief after each step and review how it went. Rinse. Repeat. Focus on the doing.

Habits are more powerful than goals. In the final analysis, specific goals may not be so important after all. Successful people win because they have good habits. Especially if you are not running an organization with more than half a dozen people, your habits exert a much more powerful influence over the direction of your firm than any strategic plan you create. The habit I am working on this year is throwing out my to do list at the end of each day. I use lots of technology but still always have a legal pad handy on which I write tasks that need doing. The same sheet frequently makes it into the next day. If I fill it up or need a clean sheet, I have a habit of flipping the top sheet over and starting a new page.  There are lots of times I may have four or five pages of partially completed to-do lists. And that’s one of the ways I drop things. I miss a deadline. I break a promise. It’s bad, I know, and please don’t anyone tell David Allen I violate one of those fundamental principles of Getting Things Done. And that’s what I have determined I will change this year. Each day, every item that cannot be done that day will go into my CRM (if it is related to a client) or into Nozbe (if a project unrelated to a client). And I will throw that piece of paper away and start with a clean one tomorrow. Today is the 6th of January. I have succeeded in this new habit twice so far. I know I need 28 days pretty much consecutively to make it a real habit. And I will get there. Maybe it will start tomorrow. Maybe next month. But I will continue to work on it. And this habit will probably help me accomplish more than many of the goals I set.

I hope some of these ideas help you write more productive goals for 2016. How have you improved your goal setting? What strategies have you found to help you accomplish your objectives? I would love to learn some of what you have found successful if you will post it in the comments below.

Happy New Year, and may your year be the most successful yet!

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