Guest Post by Dr. Richard K. Nongard
I looked at my calendar and realized it was only a week from the end of the month and that I was not even within 50% of my sales goal. I did what people naturally do when the end of the month is racing back towards the middle of the month, I justified revising my goal downward. I reasoned that I had taken two days off to attend a university event and that because of the season, inquiries were slow, and the original goal was unreasonable. I licked my thumb and erased the goal from the calendar and proudly posted a new goal for the end of the month.
A few days after reaching the new goal, I grabbed the wet-erase marker and started to write a new one for the new month. But then something clicked. My goals were dragging me down. And that was the last month I ever set a numerical goal.
The Smart Move is to Stop Setting Goals
In my role as the company leader, I no longer ask my team members to set goals. I know, it’s almost heretical to advocate a “goal-free” company, but leaders must rethink the value of goal-setting. Revising goals downward is not the only unhelpful inclination we have when faced with challenging goals. Research shows that in addition to causing anxiety and stress and contributing to employees feeling detached from decision making, it can even bring moral quandaries related to how salespeople and customer service professionals really treat the customer.
As a leader I have moved away from the Holy Grail of SMART goal setting, realizing that they may not be so smart after all. SMART is an acronym almost every company uses to establish goals, and while research does show it can improve the bottom line, new viewpoints demonstrate that there is something as effective, and perhaps without the hidden baggage goal-setting can bring.
Focus on Intentions
I now help my teams set intentions rather than goals. An intention is different than a goal. A goal focuses on the future, but an intention is focused on right now. Right now, I can seize the power of this moment to be my best. Right now, I can be trustworthy. Right now, I can be motivated. Right now, I can step into friendliness and kindness. In leadership training, we often talk about authenticity, and by setting intention rather than goals, I can fully embrace the authenticity of this moment by moving into a resource state that helps me with the next phone call, or the next customer interaction, or the next employee coaching session.
In many cases, goals are set to fulfill the expectations or desires of others. But intentions begin with “I Am…” and nobody can say an intention for you other than yourself. Unlike goals that need to be adopted, intentions have ownership from the moment we set them. Intentions have power because they provide a mechanism for action right now, rather than a goal which can always be procrastinated.
Intentions are a leadership tool. They are a catalyst for change in coaching team members to move beyond a feeling of failure that arises when an employee is struggling. And, intentions are a leadership tool because they can activate immediate action. When our grandmothers used to say, “You have the same pants to get glad in that you have to be mad in!” they were really exhorting us to use the power of intention.
The Power of Intention
As an expert in business psychology, I have seen intention setting change entire organizational cultures. When leaders stop using goal setting and start modeling setting intention, employees feel empowered and begin to take a sense of ownership over their work. Like other mental habits, this is a pattern that becomes ingrained and a part of a person’s life-enhancing skill set.
The simplest strategy for setting an intention is to make it a part of your morning routine. When you jump into the shower, take some time to reflect on a new day and decide how you want to experience it. Decide if you want to be confident. Decide if you want to be agreeable. Decide if you want to be clear-minded. Later, as you step over the threshold of the front door to get to your car, use it as a cue to recall your intention and then go forth through the rest of the day being that which is most important to you. In leadership, we call this authenticity. And authentic leaders step into success effortlessly. It is impressive to witness how, by setting intentions rather than goals for a consistent period of time, we can look back and realize we have effectively exceeded any expectations we could have set for ourselves with the traditional methods that focus on goal setting.
Dr. Richard K. Nongard is an expert in business psychology and he is the author of Viral Leadership: Seize the Power of Now to Create Lasting Transformation in Business. He is a frequent keynote speaker and can be found @nongard1 on Twitter or at RichardNongard.com.