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Goal Setting – Where does it all go wrong?

Filed in Blog by Tracey Davison on 3820 - 0 Comments

Goal setting - Where does it all go wrong?


With a New Year comes change.  Many of us will set goals this January, whether they be personal or work-related, but it’s a sad truth that most of us will fail to achieve those goals.  In our latest white paper; New Year, New Goals: Why you SHOULD be setting new year goals and how to ensure success, we explore why the start of a new year is such a critical time for goal setting and we reveal the most valuable thing you can do to ensure you and your team achieve your goals this year.  But in this post I’ll look at why it is that most of us fail to achieve our goals, after all, when we set goals, we do so for a reason, i.e.; there’s something we want to achieve and it’s of such significant importance to us that we are driven to putting it into words.  So what stops us from being successful?  Does the goal just slowly diminish in it’s importance to us?  Well, in a very few cases, yes but more often, there are greater forces at work.

1. We lack commitment to the goal.  This occurs most often where the goal setting is being driven by somebody else.  For example, a leader who suggests to a member of their team that they set a goal to communicate more with the rest of the team, will get less buy in than they would from a member of a team who tells their leader they’d like to set a goal to communicate more with the rest of their team.  Equally, when we fail to prioritise our goals, either by downplaying their importance in relation to other, more immediate concerns or by simply ignoring them, we set ourselves on the route to failure.

2. We make it too difficult.  Most of us (if we’re honest) could come up with a great big long list of things we’d like to be better at, but listing all of them will not bring you any closer to achieving any one of them.  When we set too many goals it dilutes our focus.  Instead of applying all our efforts towards achieving just 1 or 2 goals (I would suggest a maximum of 3), we become overwhelmed by the sheer scale of our ambition and inevitably the feeling that the task is just unachievable sets in.  We also experience this feeling of resignation when we fail to be specific about our goals.  If I just set a goal to communicate more with the members of my team, without providing exact details of what I mean by that and how I intend to do it, I am unlikely to be successful because I have not clearly defined what it is I want to achieve and therefore cannot be certain if and when I have achieved it.  Conversely, if I set a goal to provide a weekly report to the rest of team on my accounts and their status, I will have absolute clarity on how to achieve this goal and will know when I have achieved it.

3. We make it too easy.  Achieving our goals makes us feel great, so goal setting for ‘quick wins’ that we know we can easily achieve will certainly give us a boost but, just like reaching for a chocolate bar to stave off a hunger pang, the short term benefits are outweighed by the long term effects.  Quick win goals do nothing to really challenge us and if the purpose of goals is to help us realise our potential and be the best we can be, then only goals that push us that bit further can help us to achieve that.

4. We fail to monitor our goals.  Regular monitoring of our goals not only helps us to establish focus, but it also provides the motivation that will help us achieve our goals in the form of smaller achievements along the way.  Monitoring our goals requires us to:

  • put in place a system for recording and measuring progress
  • set a deadline by which the goal should be achieved
  • break the goal down into smaller, clearly-defined actions, each with it’s own deadline
  • constantly evaluate the goal – it’s OK to change the goal, other influencing factors may come into play and force you to adjust your goal, but if you’re not evaluating it, the likely outcome is that you’ll unnecessarily abandon it.

The factors I have covered here can be largely combatted by applying the SMART goals process to your goal setting.  SMART remains the most widely-used tool for goal setting because, like a seat-belt, when used correctly, it significantly heightens your chances of a better outcome.  But, just like a seat belt, it’s not infallible.

Take a look at our New Year, New Goals white paper to read more about ensuring goal success or see our Goal Achiever Programme if you or your team would like some support achieving your goals.

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