Saturday, March 28, 2009

Leading by Executing 2: From Goal Setting to Goal ACHIEVING

Leaders are paid to produce results -- to execute when given a goal. Yet while most leaders know all about goal setting, few know what science says about goal achieving. The Figure below employs the eXpansive Leadership Model (XLM) to illustrate a simple synthesis of several hundred research-studies on how to achieve difficult goals. There is a very high probability that you and your team will achieve any difficult goal if you follow the four powerful steps outlined in this figure and described in this, and subsequent, blogs.

The Four Steps of Goal ACHIEVING


1. Set a long-term goal. In their extraordinary book Goal Setting and Task Performance, Professors Locke and Latham summarize 393 separate research studies on goal setting, involving 40,000 subjects performing 88 different tasks, in eight different countries, over time spans ranging from minutes to years. (1) According to their research, the probability of reaching your goals increases when you:

- Set specific and difficult goals

- Limit the number of goals

- Create short-term and long-term goals

Thus, a large body of evidence advises leaders to access their visionary style by setting and communicating a compelling vision with long-term goals. Goal achieving does indeed begin with smart goal setting.

With all the research on goal setting, you might think writing an excellent long-term goal would guarantee success. But it doesn’t. As you strive to execute, the predictive power of just knowing where you’re going diminishes. In other words, as goals get harder, writing them down doesn’t predict achievement. The science of goal achieving tells us that when goals become more difficult you need a plan. Setting long-term goals without a plan is like setting sail for a treasure without a map.

Setting a long-term goal is the first step in goal ACHIEVING. The next three steps consist of the three keys to an effective plan, illustrated in the previous figure. The are:

2. Gain commitment to the goal

3. Build belief that you can reach the goal with a plan

4. Use feedback to stay on track as you pursue the goal

We’ll describe each of these three in detail in subsequent blogs. Which of these keys to goal ACHIEVING do feel is your weakest? What could you do about it?

Keep eXpanding,


1. Locke E and Latham G: A Theory of Goal Setting & Task Performance. Prentice Hall: Englewood Cliffs, 1990.


sam said...

Great info as always. How many goals are "too many" for an organization?

Dave Jensen, Leadership Expert said...

Hi Sam,

Great question. AND very difficult to answer. In general, research does support the common practice of pursuing multiple goals. However, the actual number of goals an organization (or individual) can pursue depends on an avalanche of variables, which include:
1. The cognitive capacity or ability of those pursuing their goals.
2. The total amount of time available for goal completion.
3. The complexity of the goals and tasks.
4. The difficulty of the goals and tasks.
5. The degree to which attainment of a given goal effects other goals.
6. The degree to which goals must be attained sequentially or simultaneously.
7. The quality of the individuals strategies to complete the goal.

One of the best tools a leader can use when pursuing multiple goals is feedback. Find multiple channels of feedback to assess the impact of multiple goals on the individuals throughout the organization. I recently worked with a high-tech firm which had implemented four major, companywide initiatives. The feedback I received was that leaders at all levels were being overwhelmed by these (probably due to goal complexity, difficulty, and total amount of time available for goal completion).

Happy goal-setting,