You’ve got to have a goal!” said the person talking at me. They weren’t talking with me, or to me. They were talking at me. Their words deflecting off my mind like tiny balls of icy hail pinging off a bitumen road.
“Say’s who?” I remember thinking to myself.
The older I get, the more I don’t believe in the concept of goals as a strategy to maintain motivation.
So much so, the term “goal” has been added to my banished language list alongside; just, but, why, “find time” and, “I hope this email finds you well…”
Emails don’t have eyes. They can’t “find” anyone.
I digress. What’s my reason for putting the term “goal” in the naughty corner? (except in the context of the footy…of course)
In my mind, using goals as a source of motivation simply doesn’t make sense. It seems fundamentally flawed.
Perhaps years of racing towards sales target finish lines took their toll.
Some years were breezy. You’d fly across the line with the grace and speed of cheetah on a vast African plain. Winner!
Others less so. They were the years you’d find yourself wading through knee high, gelatinous muddy months in your rubber fishing waders, only to collapse in an exhausted heap at the eleventh hour. Still a winner.
Despite the differences in terrain, the result was the same. You hit your number. You were a success. You’d be wearing a winner’s lanyard at the company awards dinner.
Then there were the years you didn’t. The generic lanyard years.
You’d worked just as hard and just as smartly. You simply couldn’t get the job done because of an issue outside of your control – a supply backlog, your biggest customer went bust. There goes your number.
And right there, is the problem with the concept of goals as a source of motivation.
When you hit your goal, you succeed. When you don’t, you fail. Regardless of uncontrollable external influences.
Goals don’t differentiate winners from losers. They both have the same goal.
Goals have the potential to manipulate our mind into thinking we’re a failure when we’re not or conversely, make us appear better than we really are.
Their all-or-nothing attitude can be brutal on our motivation, creating only momentary happiness when achieved.
Take a sales target for example. We achieve our goal, aka sales target, we are paid our bonus. Then the counter resets to zero and the entire cycle starts again.
Robotically, our minds kick into gear and repeats the “doing” cycle, again and again.
Each time, you’ve a little less energy than you did for the last. Until suddenly, you find yourself waving at burnout’s face.
And it’s not a friendly hello.
Unwittingly, we’ve become a human doing machine tangled in a web of sameness. We start waking up each day thinking, “I can’t do this anymore.”
No, you can’t.
Sustained professional well-being is reliant on how we measure success – in the now, the short term and the long term. Ask any athlete whose retired from professional sport. Their sporting career may have ended. Their life has not.
Choosing to focus on continual gains as a measure of success keeps us focused on what’s in our control – effort & progress.
Gains in our personal growth through intentional learning.
Gains in human connection by skilful customer engagement.
Gains in knowledge derived from customer conversations.
Gains are like intravenous nourishment for our professional wellbeing. They keep the heart in our work beating.
Goals on the other hand are like a jumpstart for an exhausted soul. One which will remain exhausted until it’s shown some love and attention.
Goals have their place. However, when it comes to measuring success and sustained motivation, I’m mindful of them existing as a team of one.
We need a measure of success which keeps us connected with ourselves.
Goals are great for setting direction.
Systems are best for recognising gains and making progress.
Encouraging our sales teams to break down their sales target goals into intentional process, keeps them focused on what they can control – their efforts.
Unlike goals, gains are not all or nothing. There is always something.
To focus on gains is to focus on positive possibility.
To see the world through a lens of abundance rather than scarcity.
To constantly learn rather than be disheartened by failure.
To excite rather than caution.
As sales leaders we can support our teams to focus on the gains.
The small wins throughout the process which too often get swept under the rug because they feel so far away from the enormous black & white, company set target, rendering them insignificant.
Gains radiate significance. They are the answer to “How are you going to get there?”
And without focusing on the “how?”, we’ll remain wading through the gelatinous muddy months until eventually, we become bogged.
Show your team the gains & you show them the way.
 Clear, James (2018) Atomic Habits. United Kingdom. Penguin Random House.