John had reached his dream destination, but wished he’d dreamt of an air conditioned villa too

Here’s another post inspired by the brilliant Michael Finnegan of i2i fame, as featured on this very blog here and here. This one features a very important idea. And one I have struggled with a little, how to make goal setting work.

Allow me to clarify. Goal setting has always worked amazingly well for me. I absolutely swear by it from my personal perspective and the management of sales teams especially. But I have always noted that they leave some people cold. As a management tool, they just don’t get the results. I appreciate that this is a little controversial, but let’s be honest, does every single person buzz off setting and achieving goals? Do you?

I’ve discussed high level motivators before here, but lets recap. According to the amazing Dan Pink there are three things that motivate beyond last century’s contingent, result orientated rewards.

1. Autonomy – Over task, team, timing and technique

2. Mastery – Becoming so proficient in your task that it feels like you are ‘playing’ or ‘in the flow’ as its sometimes described

3. Purpose – Being part of a bigger picture

These motivators are particularly useful when dealing with 21st century ‘left brain’ creative tasks. There is plenty of evidence that contingent (If I do this, I get that reward) motivators are still relevant, but it is pretty well established in science at least that the more sophisticated aspects are at the forefront of most people’s efforts.

So that’s one reason ‘old skool’ goal setting can be less effective I guess, but there is another, much more obvious element I am afraid I’d always missed, and Michael Finnegan helped me see through to the sense that follows.

Goals, and especially SMART goals (or objectives) make people feel bad when they don’t achieve them.

There, its simple really, and I can’t believe I hadn’t spotted it before. If people don’t achieve their goals, they feel bad. Obvious. Failure makes us feel bad, which clearly pushes against managements desire to ‘manage by objective’ (MBO). Especially when the goals are onerous, or the objectives really challenging.

If, like me, you are able to remove the emotion from these sorts of scenarios, then goals, and MBO can be hugely powerful. If that’s not the case, they can clearly be massively demotivating. And it’s not just that MBO is not the best way to motivate someone involved in creative tasks. If failure makes us feels bad then it’s actually the case that MBO is counter productive, at least in this sense.

So how can we overcome this? It’s clear that goals, and especially SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timed) are extremely useful, if not outright essential in terms of framing an organisations aims and plans and vision. But it’s not great news that the very thing we need to run our businesses is having this damaging effect. The answer is surprisingly simple, and interestingly a technique I’d be pretty sure most of us are already using on a daily basis anyway. We need to dream!

As Michael puts it: The Impossible Goal vs. The Inevitable Dream. I love this idea but I wonder how many of us are using the power of dreams in our business planning and management of our teams?

It goes something like this. If the goals are getting on top of us, and the task is therefore taking on the demotivational aspect we have discussed, then keeping the ‘dream’ at the forefront of our mind allows us to push through. The more detailed the dream the more power it has to help us through the difficulties.

Michael told a great story about his Mum, who decided to learn to fly a helicopter by her 60th birthday. Well, it was a difficult ambition but sure enough she completed it. She even told Michael that at one point, when learning how to read the various charts that were required, she almost folded. She only stayed the course it transpired because of the very specific picture she had in her mind of the outcome of her effort.

The picture was of her flying a helicopter, obviously, but actually hovering over her son Michael’s back garden, waving to the family below her. That image served to drive her through the pain barrier as it were.

And we’ve all done this haven’t we? Had a dream or a vision of something. A picture so clear we are almost obsessed by it! A picture that we turn to in idle moments maybe or even in that quiet time just before sleep to allow us to ‘day dream’ a better life or a new job or a new car?

Who hasn’t considered how great we’d look in that snazzy jacket? Or what a  huge help in our career that new suit would be.

Maybe we’ve mused over how happy we’d be if only that special someone would look our way? Or what a terrific opportunity that new department at our office represents, if only we could get a posting there to prove ourselves? We’ve all had these thoughts and used them in this way. And haven’t we all wondered at that amazing quirk of fate that delivered it to us as well?  Doesn’t it seem as if the more potent the dream, the more fixed upon it we become, the more likely it is to come true?

I find it fascinating that this power exists in us. The ability to make our dreams come true through some power we don’t fully understand. But that’s for another blog I think!

In the meantime consider how these dreams can help us in life for sure, but also in work, in the objectives set by our management and our teams, and by the plans we make for ourselves too. When the goals become tough, when the reality of the task facing us makes us feel stretched and pushed, then its the time to dream!

And the dream really must be the most specific we can make it and we must hold it to the front of our minds as strongly as possible. Think about it daily or even hourly and make the picture as real as you can. Think smells, sounds. colours and feelings. The more real the better. That way we can achieve our goals, the plans we have set ourselves that allow us to win, and we can push through the hard parts, and not allow the difficulties we face to derail us.

The link between goals and dreams can be extremely powerful. What do you think? Let me know in the comments as usual, or tweet me on @radiojaja 

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7 replies
  1. seangrey54
    seangrey54 says:

    Great article Tony, I have heard it said that whatever you want in life is out there, you just need to point your antenna toward it. “Imagining what you want as if it already exists opens the door to letting it happen.” Shakti Gawain

      • seangrey54
        seangrey54 says:

        It is very much the world I work in. Combining the power of the body’s energy system seems to help experience our images, feelings and aspirations on a deeper level- helping that dream come

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