The Slightly SMART And Not So Dumb Guide To Goal Setting – Part 2

A guide for leaders – Part 2

Types of goals and how they can complement each other

Goals do not come in one size or type. To achieve goals, coaches help clients to create what are called goal hierarchies. These hierarchies help us to see what effort is required to achieve the goal. They split the goal up into parts so clients can and plan what is required to achieve the goal. 

Goal hierarchies show us where to focus our priorities. On many occasions, they also show us what might be missing to achieve our mastery goal and where we might be losing sight of our intentional focus. 

An example of goal structuring 

Our goal, to become a great leader – this is a mastery goal – it may take us years to achieve. Therefore, it takes the top spot in our goal hierarchy, it is what we call our first-order goal. This goal is not a SMART goal as it’s not time-bound, it could take years; we do not know. 

Our next activities will become our second order goals. This could be, getting our first leadership position or enrolling in a leadership course. 

We would then have third-order goals, finding a leadership coach or mentor, joining a leadership community of practice, taking part in 360 feedback. 

Fourth order goals might be reading leadership articles and books; you get the picture.

We can go all the way down our goal hierarchy to getting up on time, having enough sleep, wearing appropriate clothes to work. These are all the activities and behaviours contribute to our mastery goal of becoming a great leader.

You could use your SMART goals for the lower order more task orientated goals. Doing this provides a sense of achievement on what might be a long goal journey to our mastery goal of becoming a great leader. 

Why goals can fail  

Many times, in our lives, we set mastery goals, some people call these goals BEHAGS, big, hairy, audacious, goals, then after making grand plans, we do not achieve many of them. 

When asked by friends and colleagues how our goal is going, we quickly learn to change the subject, taking the focus away from our embarrassing lack of progress.

Non-completion of a goal can be due to many contextual factors, the right time, lack of knowledge, resources, support, self-belief the list goes on. 

The feeling we are left with is of failure, regret and sometimes shame for our unfinished efforts. These unfinished goals are what skeletons in wardrobes are made of. This short article about making sure you do not collect more!

We all need one or two skeletons. It is the bitter sting of failure is something that can spur us on towards achievement; it is not all bad. Our past failures are vital components of our future success. 

Goal Slippage 

What happens with many mastery goals is we lose sight of the bigger goal altogether. This can happen as we become immersed in smaller task completion towards the bigger goal or feel that the larger goal completion is so far away that we become occupied with second-order goals that are more tangible and are easier to complete. 

The goal of becoming a great leader slips down a rung, and we focus on a lower order goal, perhaps completing a leadership course. We deceive ourselves that this is the goal we set out to achieve. We settle for second best, like a certain lady with blonde hair reminds us. 

 “Where we end up is where our focus is”. 

Where we end up is where our focus is. If we want to achieve mastery goals, these are the big goals we set for our lives and careers; we need to find some way to keep them in our focus. Partnering with a professionally trained coach is a great way to ensure you make good on the goals you set. 

Can you have too many goals? Can goals be harmful?

One word, Yes. When we have too many goals or when goals compete, we become overwhelmed, leading to withdrawal from goal-orientated activity. 

Certain types of goals can be harmful to our mental health, having too many avoidant goals, or goals not to do things are correlated with higher rates of depression. 

Do not eat fatty foods, don’t drive to work when you can walk, don’t watch too much TV. As soon as I say to you don’t each chocolate, what does your mind think of? Chocolate, avoidant goals can be draining.

What can leaders do? We are always more motivated to move towards something than we are to move away. 

Don’t eat fatty foods, cook a healthy meal twice a week. Don’t drive when you can walk, turns to cycle to work with friends on Fridays. Don’t watch too much TV turns to plan one social outing mid-week. 

Don’t argue with teammates, make one new work buddy each week. Say one positive thing to each person you meet each day. Thank someone at the end of each day.

We call all these approach goals. Our minds are naturally inclined to work in an approach mode.

If I said I’ll give you fifty dollars once you have read this article, your mind immediately plans what you might do with the money. You don’t begin to think about how it could have paid bills in the past.

We are future-orientated beings. 

The dark side of goal setting

The Royal Commission into banking is a perfect case study in the misuse and application of goal setting. Many of the criminal behaviours engaged in were a product of people influenced by goals which lead to unethical and illegal behaviour to achieve. 

Many of these people were honest and upright. Moving a few cents into a child’s savings account to activate it to be paid a bonus you need to support your household bills does not seem like the crime of the century. But it is a good example of the slippery slope from an ethical perspective.

Emergency rooms in hospitals set targets for patients to be discharged to various hospital wards within 6 hours. 

This led to patients being left on trolleys in corridors to meet departmental goals. Understanding the unintended consequences of goal setting is essential from a risk perspective.

Leaders need to think about what other potentially unintended harmful behaviours could arise from setting specific goals. 

Much of the research examining goals is occupied with their positive benefits; however, goals can encourage unethical behaviour and inappropriate risk-taking in the name of achieving them.  

The harmful side effects of goal setting are far more severe and systematic than prior work has acknowledged. Goal setting can harm organisations in systematic and predictable ways.

  • The use of goal setting can degrade employee performance, shift focus away from important but non-specified goals, harm interpersonal relationships, corrode organisational culture, and motivate risky and unethical behaviours.
  • In many situations, the damaging effects of goal setting outweigh its benefits.
  • Managers should ask specific questions to ascertain whether the harmful effects of goal setting outweigh the potential benefits.

The danger in extrinsic rewards – Money and Prizes

This is called the Over Justification effect. When extrinsic rewards of prizes or money are used to motivate people who are already motivated intrinsically to perform a task that they love doing, the result can be people can become less intrinsically motivated to pursue these activities in the future. 

What is the practical advice for leaders? Simply put a car that is already running does not need starting again, doing so damages the engine (Our internal drive to perform).

How do leaders sustain goal-directed behaviour? 

We know from the research that the successful completion of goals leads to more goal-directed behaviour.

Many of you will have seen YouTube videos of military personnel telling you to make your bed in the morning. The research backs this behaviour. 

Engaging in what might be a simple goal builds confidence and achievement drive to be involved in other goal-directed activity.

The greater the difficulty of attaining the goal, the greater the reward for completing it. Leaders must learn to use goals to stretch and develop their people.

Setting goals that are just out of reach and then providing consistent support for people to achieve them is a crucial factor in building a high performing team.

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