A simple but powerful way to think about setting goals

Organisational flow can be achieved through intelligent goal setting. Yesterday I listened to an excellent podcast on the topic of ‘Flow’, recommended to me by one of the CEOs in this tribe, Aaron Fuchs of iXperience. In this podcast, Stephen Kotler, probably the foremost voice on high-performance business habits, talks about 3 levels of goal setting.

I found this podcast interesting as goal-setting for entire organisations (as opposed to yourself) is is a seriously tricky topic. Also, it overlaps with culture, teaming, internal communications, and a whole raft of other organisational elements so the knock-on effects are broad.

Kotler sees goal-setting happening in three different dimensions:

  1. Massive, transformational goals
  2. High, hard goals
  3. Clear, daily goals

The key to this methodology is that it appeals to different aspects of human nature. And human nature matters because a large part of a CEO’s work relies on building broad cooperation across large numbers of people, something which can no longer be mandated through command-and-control approaches.

I’ll unpack the concept a little further:

Massive, transformational goals are inspirational by nature: they get people excited and appeal to a sense of purpose. An example might be ‘Writing books that change the world.’

High, hard goals are proven to be more effective than smaller, shorter-term goals and one such example might be to ‘Block off six different writing blocks over the course of a year to complete my first book.

Clear, daily goals keep you on track, ensuring progress gets made in an incremental way. Such an example might be ‘Write 250 words every day – no exceptions’.

Getting full performance from your business is a dance that never ends, purely because your organisation is alive, dynamic, and always undergoing change.

This means that setting your organisational goals needs to be really deeply considered so that they are able to sustain these constantly shifting conditions.

Most organisations I come across boil goals down to financial targets. Whilst obviously crucial, the science on financial markets being the sole form of goal is very clear: it doesn’t work.

If you are to win your people’s discretionary effort it’s going to require a nuanced take on goal-setting and I hope that this methodology helps.

In writing this article I realised how un-excellent my goal setting has been this year. Humbling …

Happy week ahead, folks.

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My weekly missive, CEO Sundays, is published at 5pm every Sunday evening. The writings cover CEO topics exclusively: how-to’s; thought starters; leadership insights; reflection opportunities; research.

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