At the time of this writing there are 1.2 million results in Google for “small business goals.” That means that a lot of people are searching for – and writing about – goal setting. But what if everyone is wrong? What if in order to achieve small business success you need to throw ideas out the window and focus on process?
The Harvard Business School working paper “Goals Gone Wild” highlighted some of the problems with goal setting. In this landmark work, the authors reviewed multiple research studies on goal setting and concluded that, at the very best, the benefits of goal setting are exaggerated. In some cases, they posited, goal setting can actually cause systematic harm to organizations and individuals.
When businesses of any size hold a narrow focus on measurable goals, it can lead to a rise in “unethical behavior, distorted risk preferences, corrosion of organizational culture and reduced intrinsic motivation.”
It’s not that having goals are bad exactly, but that there are systematic problems that pop up when crossing the finish line of a goal is the only thing that you and your team care about.
For example, if you have a goal to obtain 2 new clients per month for the entire year, you could find yourself taking on less than ideal clients in order to meet your number – or offering significant discounts that cut into your profit margins and hurt your cash flow in order to court new clients. You become more results oriented than process oriented, and that could pose problems in the long run.
Instead of focusing on meeting a specific goal, look at the underlying reasons why you want to achieve those goals – and which strategies will help you get there.
The underlying reason for having a goal of two new clients per month is growing overall revenue and creating more stability in the business. This can be achieved through a number of different channels and shouldn’t be measured by the new number of clients signed on a monthly basis.
Rather than have a concrete monthly goal for new clients, try focusing on the process of attracting and signing those clients. What do you need to do on a monthly basis to lay the foundation for new client? Is it advertising? Networking? Hiring a virtual assistant to free up your time for prospect calls?
Asking these questions and establishing a strategy to get new clients is more important than the concrete end goal. It encourages you and your team to think long term, instead of being so focused on a number.
As we begin this new year, consider throwing out your goals list and shifting to a process-oriented approach. You might find that your desired results come without you even focusing on them.
About the author:
Jenn Boutwell – VP Marketing & Strategic Alliances
I am a Sage One brand ambassador and team building virtuoso. Professionally I am known for building strong teams and organizing complex situations. I am passionate about making small business owners’ lives easier so they can spend more time on what they are passionate about. When I’m not running between meetings, I’m running half-marathons and training for a full marathon.
Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.