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Dynamics of Goal Setting

Most people generally desire improved results in one or more areas of their personal or work lives.  The same is true of most organizations.  The results  individuals and organizations produce, be they short-term or long-term, are primarily determined by the behaviors people exhibit on a daily basis.  One of the key factors that determines our behaviors and, therefore, our results is our goals. Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, all behaviors are goal-directed.  It is our drive to achieve goals that generates the results we get.  We get what we are currently getting out of life (our results) because of our current behaviors, and our current behaviors are to a very large extent determined by what we set out to achieve (i.e., our goals). Therefore, in order to achieve improved results, individuals and organizations must develop an appreciation of how goals affect behavior and an understanding of the process for setting and achieving productive goals.  Included in this process is a crystal clear visualization of what the desired improved results would look like and how success in a designated area will be tracked and measured.  

Goals vs. Objectives

In general every day usage, the terms "goal" and "objective" are usually considered to be synonymous and are often used interchangeably.  However, in the context of understanding goal-directed behavior and its relevance to success, it is helpful to distinguish between the two.  An objective is a comprehensive state, condition or realization of purpose an individual or organization expects to achieve within a specified timeframe.  It can be likened to a vision. Objectives like visions are often intangible concepts reflecting states of being that are difficult to clearly define or describe.  One could have as an objective to be "respected" and "admired," but it could be difficult to explain in concrete terms how such a state would be recognized as having been achieved.  A goal on the other hand, is an easily-definable, observable, measurable and time-bound desired performance outcome that an individual or organization intends to achieve through behavior, usually as one of several subordinate components of a more wide-ranging objective.  A goal is more like a personal mission and represents activity.  Unlike objectives, goals can usually be clearly described and visualized and therefore, serve as much more effective targets for focusing and directing performance behaviors

Objectives can be viewed as the end result we seek through our behaviors while the achievement of goals is the event or accomplishment that will bring our objectives to reality.  Goal achievement in itself is rarely the ultimate end we desire to attain.  It is usually only the means through which we gain something we ultimately want which is most often characterized by a desirable mood or feeling.  Winning a professional basketball championship for example, would be a desired goal, but it would not be the ultimate objective.  If it were, as soon as the game ended, spectators, players and coaches would immediately pack up, get up and quietly leave the court, and there would be no further mention or reflection about the completed game.  In such a situation, winning just for winning's sake is not the desired end result.  Rather, the desired end result has to do with the benefits and rewards winning brings.  In this case, desired end results could include admiration, honor, recognition, praise, increased self-esteem as well as other emotions.

One might argue that an important benefit or reward for winning a professional basketball championship would also be increased financial compensation. Certainly players on the winning team would probably be paid more than those on the losing team, and their future earning prospects might be better.  But as with winning a game, the accumulation of money is usually only an immediate goal rather than an ultimate objective.  Accumulating money is simply a goal that can contribute to attaining objectives having to do with positive moods and emotions that having money can help provide such as the enjoyment of leisure and travel activities, a sense of security, a reduction in stress and worry and the satisfaction that comes from helping others.  Achieving goals then, is the path through which we attain our ultimate desired objectives.  One objective can depend on the attainment of a single goal or several goals either independently or sequentially.

Performance Goals and Developmental Goals 

Performance goals are tangible and are primarily action-oriented.  They are goals that have to do with doing something.  Performance goals are tangible in that they can be easily grasped either with the hand or the mind. Examples of performance goals are buying a new house, running a marathon, scheduling an interview, taking a course or writing a book.  Developmental goals on the other hand, relate to desired growth in personal capabilities as demonstrated by behaviors reflecting improved attitudes, attributes, skills and knowledge. While they also involve action, they are more intangible being or becoming goals.  Since developmental goals are intangible, a person must usually devote time and energy to vividly imagine and visualize them.  Nonetheless, developmental goals can have a profound impact on personal and professional growth and accomplishment.  Examples of developmental goals would be those having to do with learning to play the piano, becoming more assertive, becoming a good spouse or parent and improving listening skills.

Both types of goals are extremely important to success.  True success in life usually is derived through the accomplishment of interrelated performance and developmental goals that are complementary to each other.  A person may have as a performance goal, the purchase of a vacation home.  In assessing the obstacles standing in the way of the achievement of this goal, this person realizes that the only way this can happen if he or she is able to increase annual income by 30%, another performance goal.  As this person is a salesperson paid on commission already making as many sales calls per day as possible, it becomes clear that the best strategy for increasing sales to produce the desired income would be by becoming a more effective salesperson by closing a greater percentage of prospects.  This is a developmental goal that requires personal growth and development.

Goal Setting for Success 

Success can be broadly defined as making optimal use of one's own potential to achieve.  Since each of us has a unique set of individual knowledge, skills and attitudes, genuine personal success should be measured by what a person does with his or her own potential and not by comparison with what others have accomplished.  Being successful essentially means setting out to accomplish something significant and meaningful and then doing whatever it takes to get it done.  Another way to say it is that success is the progressive realization of a worthwhile, predetermined goal.  This means that where there is no goal their can be no success.  Also, since success involves a "progressive" goal realization, it is not achieved solely upon the attainment of the target goal, it is evident throughout the journey.  Furthermore, a person cannot succeed by accident or luck.  True success requires a strong commitment to intentional, planned personal growth to develop the knowledge, skills and attitude necessary for goal achievement.

Since results stem from our behaviors and our behaviors are determined by our goals, the quality and relevance of our goals therefore, can have a significant impact on our results.  The challenge for many people is not that they are not goal-driven for everything people do is consciously or subconsciously motivated by a desire for goal achievement. The challenge is that people's goals in life may be either:
  • not linked to desired life outcomes (objectives)
  • not clearly defined or conceived
  • not coordinated with other important goals
  • set too low
  • intrinsically counterproductive
  • lacking an effective process for their attainment
Our life's journey is the most important one we will ever take, but ironically, most people spend more time planning a short vacation than they do planning their lives.  A person without a life plan is like a ship without a rudder.  Unable to chart its own course, such a ship will sail about aimlessly and eventually land on some shore.  The passengers on board will be at the mercy of the prevailing conditions there.  They may be fortunate or unfortunate in the conditions they find, but they will have had no part in determining their destiny.  Rather, it will have been determined by random events outside of their control.  Similarly, people without clear goals in life and an effective plan for their achievement, will be solely at the mercy of the people and circumstances interact with on a daily basis, and instead of being masters of their own destinies, will merely be players in the plans of others who may not necessarily have their best interests at heart.

Setting and Achieving Goals

The following represent the fundamental components of effective goal achievement:

List Your Dreams

Each of us is a unique person with a distinct collection of values, beliefs, needs and desires that describe what is important to us and define who we are. We are complex individuals whose lives have many facets which demand our daily focus and attention.  It is critically important to take time to step back and take stock of our lives to identify who we are, what really matters to us today and visualize what we ardently desire for our future.  We need to focus intently at identifying what our life objectives are, what we desire to become and what feelings we want to experience. This exercise helps us to identify and crystallize our self-idealFrom this we can begin to identify potential, specific goals, both performance and developmental as well as short-term and long-term, that can get us in  to where we want to go. 

This master list of things to attain and become is the first step in determining our life objectives or personal vision and prepares us to begin working to set short-term and long term, tangible and intangible goals for achieving our objectives. This dream inventory becomes a springboard for accomplishment.

Conduct a Personal Inventory

Just as in mapping an automobile trip, when setting goals for success, we need to know our starting point. Performing a comprehensive inventory of our current strengths and areas for growth will help determine our starting point in areas that are critical to our success: mental, physical, financial and career, family, and personal.  Another important aspect of conducting a personal inventory is that it helps us identify our current self-image. see self concept. Once we have determined the gaps between where we currently are and where we want go, we can begin setting the performance goals and developmental goals necessary to get us to our destination.  An additional benefit of conducting a personal inventory is that through this self-analysis we will likely become more aware of current strengths that we may have overlooked because we were so completely focused on other areas. see life wheel 

Set Written Goals

A fundamental requirement for goal attainment is that they be written in a results-oriented terms. Writing crystallizes thought and crystallized thought drives action.  Putting goals down on paper, demonstrates a commitment to their accomplishment.  Furthermore, written goals are concrete.  Unlike mental goals, they don't shift or dissolve away and are always available to be regularly revisited.  Mental goals can easily shift and change.   Goals can be short-term (“I will contact my manager tomorrow to discuss a job transfer”), long-term (“I will open my own financial consulting business in three years”)  or continual and ongoing (“I will devote one half-hour each morning to meditation.”)

Effective Goal-Setting Criteria

In addition to being written, goals must be specific (wording should clearly convey exactly what is to be accomplished), measurable (so one can tell when the goals has been achieved), attainable (it must represent something that you honestly feel is possible), results-oriented (expressed in terms of specific outcome) and time-bound (there must be a deadline for goal achievement).  We often use the mnemonic SMART to remember these important criteria.  A goal such as “I want to increase my income” would not be an effective goal because it is neither specific, measurable, results oriented or time-bound.  A more effective wording of such a goal would be ” I will increase my income to $75,000 a year by December 31st by securing a sales management position in my field.”

Develop a Plan of Action

An action plan is a road map for goal achievement.  In addition to a concise goal statement, an effective action plan should contain a list the action steps with target completion dates that need to be completed to achieve the goal along with a list of possible obstacles that may get in the way of goal achievement and possible solutions for overcoming each obstacle.  A plan of action is a dynamic, working document that contains the daily, weekly  and monthly activities necessary to make goals a reality.  A written plan of action is also very effective in surfacing and identifying the sequencing and prioritization of the performance and developmental goals that may be necessary for achieving one’s life objectives.

Commit to a Success Attitudes

Our attitudes are the results of our beliefs and values, and form our habits of thought.  These habits of thought impact not only how we see and react to the world around us, but also impact on how we see ourselvesIt is extremely important therefore, that we develop and maintain appropriate positive attitudes toward goal achievement.  Fortunately, as with all habits, success attitudes can be developed.  The following three success attitudes are critical for goal achievement:

Self Confidence.  In order to succeed, a person must develop supreme confidence in his or her abilities.  There is nothing that will give a person more self -confidence than knowing exactly what to do in a particular situation, and one of the best tools for guiding a person's actions is a well written goals plan of action.

Desire.  A burning desire puts action in to plans and intentions.  Without desire, we cannot achieve, no matter how worthy our goals are or how workable our plan may be.  Desire can be developed.  One of the way to do this is to vividly visualize the rewards that can be provided by the accomplishment as wells as the consequences that would result if the goal is not achieved.

Determination.  One must develop an iron-willed determination to follow through on a plan, regardless of circumstances, criticism or what other people say, think or do.  Determination simply means "never giving up."  It is the product of confidence and desire.

Goals and Motivation

Human beings, continually seek to satisfy basic common physiological and psychological needs.  This idea forms the basis for the psychological concept of needs theory which attempts to explain what motivates humans to take action.  Abraham Maslow, a noted American psychologist postulated that all basic human needs can be categorized into what he described as a hierarchy of needs composed of five basic need categories: physical, safety & security, social, self-esteem and self-actualization.  Self-actualization refers to a person's ongoing need for development and self-fulfillment. The relative importance of each need varies from person to person. Humans typically seek first to satisfy physical needs before progressing to social and self-esteem needs and only usually strive for self-fulfillment, the highest level, after all the other needs are at least moderately satisfied.  more about personal motivation

Effective goal setting and achievement can affect a person's motivation in at least three important ways.  First, the very act of setting goals calls for active imagining and visualization of what could be, and thereby creates a deeper awareness of what is possible.  This new awareness can transform into desires that did not previously exist.  Second, the success the comes with effective goal planning helps develop confidence in one's abilities.  The increased confidence can dissolve psychological barriers that may have previously stood in the way of striving for bigger and better things, and release one to take action he or she would not have attempted before.  Third, since goal achievement skills speed up the process of goal accomplishment, the more basic  elements of the human "hierarchy of needs" may be more easily and quickly satisfied.  As a result, a person may have an increased opportunity to set and achieve goals associated with the more rewarding and satisfying higher level human needs.

We believe that effective goal setting is a fundamental sets of skills that forms the foundation for success in any aspect of life. Additionally, we believe that effective goal attainment strategies should be an important component of any performance improvement initiative. This is why we offer the Dynamics of Goal Setting as an integral part of all every Symbiont Performance Group project and program.    

Learn about how Symbiont's Self-Leadership program can put you on the path to use effective goal setting for greater personal and professional success.

Contact us to learn how you and/or your organization can improve results through effective goal setting.

860-283-9963 |



Symbiont Performance Group, Inc.

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