Posted by: mikeduckett | October 16, 2014

Goal Setting – How Not To Score An Own Goal

Most people would not think they could use help setting goals.

What’s your goal?  Well, there could be a few.  To have another hundred happy customers?  To get a promotion?  To move to a new organisation?

When I work with clients we first agree some terminology to ensure we are both talking the same language!  Getting a certain number of new customers should be regarded as simply a ‘result’ i.e. a measure of your goal. Usually when we scratch beneath the surface of a result, the client realises there could be more than one way of measuring a desired success and x number of customers is just one of those measures.

There are a number goal setting theories, especially in sports psychology, and all of them attempt to draw out in some way, a distinction between a result and the performance required to achieve that result. The main issue is about degree of control.

What I mean here is that if you examine the goal you are setting, ask yourself how much control you have over its achievement. If other people are needed to make the result happen then you have very little control. However, if no-one else is involved then you have complete control. You’ll often hear athletes talk about their coach’s instruction at times of pressure to “control the controllables”.

Getting a promotion obviously relies upon the selector/s awarding you one and you’re certainly not in control of them! Even having happy customers is not entirely under your control as the customer alone will decide if they are happy.

These would be valid and powerful Goals but after you’ve done some envisaging work on them your attention should turn to your own performance that will be needed to influence the goal.

What areas of ‘performance’ might you focus on?

When you break down everything that needs to happen between where you want to end up (say with x new customers) and where you start from today, you’ll find there will be a list of desired situations e.g.:

  • Your team deliver their best sales performance
  • You release your best leadership behaviour
  • Your product gets good reviews

In terms of your own performance (the only thing you can fully control) then obviously you can focus on exhibiting the right leadership behaviours and set a clear ‘outcome’ for this. E.g., although you have little control over the team (we can only influence others, rather than control them) your focus could be on your inspirational leadership style and setting a clear outcome for this.

If this produces the desired inspiration in individuals the short-term goal of customers signing up will have a much better chance of happening.  An eventual result may be the achievement of a sales number, or a promotion but I’m confident that if you stay focused on this result, rather than your performance (your leadership style) you will be less likely to achieve it.

Put even more simply, a result (sales numbers) is in the future so stay focused on the here and now; what you’re doing in this moment. Elite athletes never focus on winning or losing; only on how they are performing now.

If you need convincing then take a look at the record of David Brailsford. He is currently performance director of British Cycling and the general manager of Team Sky.  One might suggest he had a reasonably successful 2012!  He has been clear on countless occasions that he is not focused on gold, he’s focused on performance – the right performance will bring gold medals (and boy did that happen during the Olympics!).

‘Focusing on the moment’ is key.  In a busy office, with things perhaps not going 100% right on a challenging Monday morning, should you be focused on whether or not you’ll have a £x sales by Christmas?  Absolutely not.  At that time, the goal is to ‘pull it together’, to get everyone in that team to perform to the best of their ability.

Did you hear the BBC commentary as Andy Murray was about to serve for the match, and for the Gold, in the Olympic Final?  The commentator actually said “All he needs to do now is focus on the moment”.  Would it have helped to have thought about the Gold medal, about beating his nemesis, about the countless millions watching on TV?  Quite the contrary.  His goal was to win that one point and his performance outcome was to serve at his best which, I am delighted to say, he did with an ace. Just to make the point – at that moment he certainly wasn’t thinking about being Wimbledon champion in 1 year’s time!

But do you really need help to set goals?

Well, does the aforementioned Andy Murray have a Coach to help him set and achieve goals?  Or Tiger Woods?  And how about senior executives in the business world?  Or high performing sales people?

What the coach provides is the skill of facilitating your thinking; teasing out what is under your control and what isn’t; asking the right questions to stimulate the right thoughts. The very process itself is of tremendous benefit because you’re rehearsing success.

Done properly, there is so much more to this than simply writing down some SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time bound) goals and pinning them on the wall. When you really get your brain engaged in hearing, seeing, feeling, smelling and tasting the moment of success before it happens, then I reckon you are more than half way to achieving it.

Ghandi once said, “The difference between what we do, and what we’re capable of doing would solve most of the world’s problems”. The question is, how big is the gap between your current success and what you’re capable of?


  1. […] Last time I talked about setting goals in a way that helps get your brain in gear. Now let’s think about how to make sure it’s the right gear. […]

  2. […] Last time I talked about setting goals in a way that helps get your brain in gear. Now let’s think about how to make sure it’s the right gear. […]

  3. […] I’ll come back to step 2, Reality, next time but meanwhile you might like to catch up on some of the thoughts on goal setting we’ve run before: Goal Setting; How Not to Score an Own Goal […]

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