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How Setting Bigger Goals Will Increase Your Chances of Success


How Setting Bigger Goals Will Increase Your Chances of Success

“I’ve been thinking…..”

There is no other sentence that can cause my husband to sit back in his seat, hold on tight and wonder how life is about to change. He knows that when I get to the point of articulating an idea out loud, it’s as good as done. Those three words have triggered house moves, country moves and new businesses. I feel sorry for the poor guy sometimes.

I like big goals.

And it’s not, as those close to me probably suspect, that I simply like to create chaos. It’s because the research suggests that setting bigger goals actually increases my chances of success.

My assumption is that you already set goals. Perhaps, if you’re like many successful people, you set a growth goal for your business, break that down into quarterly increments and create an action plan. And, there’s a good chance you meet those goals. The question is this – does meeting those annual goals add up to achieving your biggest goals?

The reality is that incremental change doesn’t always lead to achieving our dreams.  The reality is that:

  • Incremental goals are achieved by tweaking what we are doing today.
  • Dreams (quite often) require a fundamentally different approach to how we operate.

So, when it comes to goal setting, are you a ‘tweaker’ or a ‘dreamer’? There’s nothing wrong with being a tweaker; it will allow you to grow a successful business. It’s only a problem, if you have a niggling feeling that there might be something more, if you have a much bigger goal that demands a different approach.

The Science of Big Goals

Jim Collins writes about having BHAGs (Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals). It’s a great term, but the question is why? What is it about a big goal that is so important?

There are two important reasons we need to set really big goals.

  1. Setting a big goal increases your likelihood of success.

There has been a significant amount of research into the concept of setting ‘big goals’, most notably by Edwin A. Locke and Gary P Latham. They had this to say in New Directions in Goal-Setting Theory:

“So long as a person is committed to the goal, has the requisite ability to attain it, and does not have conflicting goals, there is a positive, linear relationship between goal difficulty and task performance.”

When our goals are modest, we don’t apply the same energy.  This is due, in no small part, to a distinct lack of inspiration. As a result, we’re more likely to settle.

Imagine, for example, you set a goal of 15% revenue growth in the next year. On the basis of that goal, you tweak your plan from the previous year.  Success is typically the result of more focused marketing, adding a new team member or focusing on referrals. And, at the end of the year, 12 percent doesn’t look that bad.

  1.  Only big goals uncover the gaps you need to bridge

This is a much bigger issue. Only big goals uncover the gaps you need to bridge to succeed (and that’s a good thing). Small goals mask those gaps.

Let’s extend the previous example. You set a goal of growing revenue by 15% a year. Your long-term goal is to grow the firm to $10m in annual revenue and you assume the first goal will lead to the second.

The reality is that you can grow by 15% a year without making earth-shattering changes to your business model. You need to be focused and do things well, but you can apply a variety of tactics that will give you a good chance of succeeding. However, to run a $10m business you’ll need to think very differently.

  • If I set a goal of 15% growth, it takes me down one path.
  • If I set a goal of becoming a $10m firm, it takes me down another.
  • While the first goal might logically appear to lead you to the second, it just doesn’t work that way.

The second goal would force you think about whether you have a clear brand, to define your messaging, to evaluate your own skill set in the broader organization and to lay the foundation to manage a substantially larger client base and team.

  • A person who wants to ‘get healthy’ might eat better and exercise three times a week. Despite the progress, that same person won’t build the stamina to run a marathon.
  • A person who wants to find balance in life might take two or three weeks of vacation with the family. It’s all good but that same person won’t build a team to support taking an entire summer off.

Big Goals Are Scary

There are many reasons we don’t set big goals but three seem to dominate.

  • Big goals open up the possibility of failure. If we don’t state the goal, we never fail. If we don’t seek something more, we are forced to be satisfied with what we have.
  • Big goals feel ‘selfish’. Many of us are trapped by a misguided sense of responsibility, one that keeps us moving in the same direction. It’s like being on a treadmill without being able to find the off switch. The lucky among us recognize that if we can set goals that inspire us personally it usually makes us a better leader, team member, spouse or parent.
  • Big goals require extraordinary vision. Sometimes the thing that holds us back is NOT an unwillingness to work hard, but a distinct lack of imagination about what is possible.

Take Action.

So where will you end up if you continue on the same path, whether that’s with your health, your family or your business?

Let’s take the easy one – your business.

  1. If you let your mind go, what is your big dream for your business? (Fight the urge to edit yourself based on where you are today or any perceived restrictions.)
  2. What gaps would you have to reach to achieve that dream and over what period of time?
  3. What are the actions associated with bridging those gaps?
  4. Now, instead of setting incremental goals that lead to ‘tweaking’, consider how you will bridge those gaps over the next year.

You won’t tweak yourself to a big vision; you’ll need to make some significant changes. And, of course, it’s worth it in the end.

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