Why are goals so hard to achieve?
It all comes down to two essential C’s
DANIELLE GIANNONE & DANNY TYRRELL
SVP & VP, PINNACLE LTD
It’s that time of year again when everyone seems to be focused on setting goals to kick off 2024. So naturally, as we prepared to write this article on goal achievement, we quickly found ourselves going down the online rabbit hole of New Year’s resolution statistics so decided to just ask Alexa.
Our artificially intelligent friend proceeded to share that when it came to New Year’s resolutions, less than 25% of people (1 in 4) keep up with them after the first 30 days, and only 8% accomplish the goals they set. While we can’t confidently confirm Alexa’s sources, we’ve all witnessed enough not-so-dry January’s to believe she is spot on and are willing to bet similar results are true for organizations and teams.
So why are goals so hard to achieve?
The 30 years of experience at Pinnacle LTD would point you to two primary culprits: a lack of goal Clarity and/or a lack of Commitment to the goal. In this article, we will explore ways you can ensure your and your team’s goals are crystal clear and that all involved are committed to achieving them.
Have you seen those long boat races in Indonesia or Polynesia (where are those long boats from)? The really long rowboat with 15 or so paddlers? Picture this: you and your team are in that rowboat. You all have a destination in mind, yet have not discussed it. You start to row straight while at the same time, others begin to row to the left…others to the right…and some are even trying to turn the boat around. In other words, everyone is in a rush to get moving but folks don’t know where they are headed. We see this type of scenario albeit less dramatic all the time.
When we work with teams, the first thing we ask them is whether they have clear goals. Nearly 10 out of 10 leaders will confidently answer “Yes!” but when we dive into the detail with them, a shocking number find out that many of their goals are left up to interpretation. In fact, only roughly 20% of the teams we work with (1 in 5) come to Pinnacle with clear goals.
And to be clear on how we define “clear goals” – they are specific, with no vague jargon or debatable terminology, and most importantly, achievement is based on measurable outcomes so success or failure is black or white.
To quickly assess the level of goal clarity in your organization, start by asking multiple members of the same team (separately, with no preparation) “what is the #1 goal of our team?” and “how will we know when we have achieved it?”
As you listen to the answers, picture each of them sitting in that long boat. How many of them are headed in the same direction?
Commitment is defined as dedication to an endeavor (or in our case, goal); willingness to make sacrifices, follow through and act. When times get tough, people who are committed do what it takes to stay the course.
So how can you ensure people are committed?
We have found the keys are to build a “we are in this together” mentality by bringing them into the goal setting process as early as possible and making the “why” behind the goal widely understood. The earlier people are brought in, the longer they will stay engaged; the greater they can explain “why” they are headed in a certain direction, the less likely they will question it when the waters get choppy.
At the end of the day, commitment is all about what people do and how often they do it (not how committed they say they are.) We refer to that at Pinnacle as “observable behaviors” and when assessing teams, we look for the frequency of their occurrence.
Let’s go back to the paddlers – after making no forward progress because they were all headed in different directions, they huddled up and agreed to head east and want to be at Pineapple Beach by 5:28am to see the sunrise. To assess the commitment of the individuals, we would look at the speed and frequency of their feathering (yes, I asked Alexa to explain rowing techniques to me) and gauge if their output was equal or greater than what’s expected. But that is when the waters are calm of course; the most telling behaviors will come out should an unexpected wave sweep away an oar or two. The paddler who creates a makeshift oar from seaweed – he’s committed. The paddler who breaks an oar in half to share with their teammate – she’s on board (not to mention a bad ass.) The one who swims back to shore – not committed. In a corporate setting, the indicating behaviors may not be as dire, but are nonetheless observable, such as taking on additional projects, making bold recommendations or sacrificing personal time to help a teammate get up to speed.
To ensure your goals are clear and all team members involved are committed to them, here are Pinnacle’s top 5 tips to achieve your goals in 2024:
- Shared Ownership: Involve the team in the initial stages of goal setting to build a “we are in this together” mentality rooted in the collective “why.”
- Be Wicked SMART: When drafting the exact verbiage for goals, reference our SMART goal checklist below and remember, achievement should be black or white. Side note, a good way to double check for vague jargon is to ask a colleague outside of your department to review them.
- Stay focused: Limit the number of goals – Top 3 gets results.
- Clear Accountability: For teams, it’s important that each member is clear on what they are responsible for (their individual goal) to get the team to the overall goal.
- Review Results Consistently as a team: Teams (and individuals) should always know and constantly share their results in comparison to their goal to make sure the right actions are being taken. Be willing to have tough conversations when behaviors arise that indicate lack of commitment.
Together, as leaders, if we can commit to the above 5 principles, we are confident we can far surpass Alexa’s low expectations.
We have one final thought for you regarding goals, specifically “stretch goals.” Do you set them? If so, why? We do not believe in them because from where we sit, leaders should always be driving growth to whatever is possible so any goal set should always make you stretch to whatever is achievable. If the stretch goals you are setting are achievable – that is where you should set the bar – if they aren’t, why waste the time?