Missing An Open Goal

The concept of having clearly defined goals is commonly seen as essential. Have clear objectives, have goals and targets, and make sure they are SMART.

I’m starting to wonder if having goals is always a good thing.

If you put the word ‘goal’ into Google images you see pictures of targets, bullseyes, people on top of mountains. They all have one thing in common – they are finite. What happens after you achieve the goal?

Earlier this year I spoke on the excellent Nucleus Illuminate roadshow. In order for my slides to be accepted as CPD by the CII I had to prove that they were SMART. This got me thinking – what is wrong with learning for its own sake? Why does everything have to have a point, a goal?

Sales targets are similar. I have never been a great fan of targets when I worked for companies – I always felt I would just do my own job to the best of my ability and the targets would hit themselves.

When I was a broker consultant in my 20s I used to have a weekly sales meeting with my sales manager. Each week would start the same. “So, Chris,” he would ask. “How many calls did you make in the last week?” “Well, Nick,” I would reply, “one less than I would have made if I hadn’t had to have this pointless sales meeting.”

If you’re reading this, Nick – sorry for being such a pain!

It turns out, however, that there is good theoretical support behind this notion. I’ve been reading a book called The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman which counters many typical self help philosophies. In a spectacular display of confirmation bias I find myself agreeing with many of his arguments as to how we should stop being so focussed and positive, allow the negativity in a little and let things just happen.

Among many interesting ideas, Burkeman recommends getting rid of goals. In one example he cites the sales team who who smashed targets once they didn’t know what those targets were.

My old dislike of targets does seem to have some substance. Except there is a catch – when I set up my own business I quickly realised that if I didn’t hit targets I would go bust!

This leads me to think that there is a difference between managing a business and performing a role in a business, and I wonder if we are making a mistake in mixing the two. In my marketing role I don’t have a target for new clients or book sales, I’ll just do as much as I can. But then I switch hats to the FD/MD role and I have to keep an eye on results and direct resources accordingly.

Another solution, particularly in a sales role, might be to set expectations (is that a better word than ‘target’?) on activity. We all know that enough of the right activity brings results.

Maybe my sales manager Nick was right all along – get the activity right and the sales will come. The goal is important – but perhaps that’s best kept at managerial level and not passed on.

What do you think?