Why You Should Burn Your SMART Goals

You know those SMART goals that your boss made you set this year for your personal development? The ones that are supposed to make you better at something or other? Or maybe you made them for yourself on a personal journey you wanted to undertake. Either way, go ahead and pull those out, and set them on fire. Yeah go ahead and burn the shit out of them. Or right click on the file and with a flourish smash down the delete button. Now let’s talk about why.

Just about everyone in the business world is familiar with SMART goals by now. Some of the words in the acronym have been switched around or interchanged over time, but the gist is below:
S. – Specific

M. – Measurable

A. – Achievable

R. – Realistic

T. – Time based

When you think about those goals that I just had you shred, and look at them in this format, how inspired were you? How visionary did you feel? Did they excite you and get you out of bed in the morning? My hunch is they didn’t.
It’s a subtle difference, but what you should do instead is set SMART milestones. Your goals, though? Make them audacious. Make them exciting. Make them a vision so grand that when you think about them, you get so damn excited that you can’t help but go and work towards them. Your steps along the way? Yeah, make those bite-sized. But they aren’t your goals. They are just the stairs you have to climb up to your unrealistic, un-measurable, impossible, unrealistic, timeless aspirations. Go ahead, get to burning.

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Don’t Blink, or You Might Miss It

 

Chapter Three of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink is titled “The Warren Harding Error.” For those of you who don’t know, Warren Harding was tall and very distinguished looking, what in some modern circles would be called, if I’m not mistaken, a “dreamboat”. Often, he was described as “Roman” looking. He had heavy black hair and bronzed skin. He had a resonant, masculine voice. In short, he looked and sounded presidential. Political forces of the time used these features to take him from a relatively unknown lawyer and lobbyist in Columbus, OH into the Oval Office of the White House. However, unfortunately, Warren Harding was not particularly bright or presidential and has been recognized by many historians as one of the worst presidents in history. Whoops.

This is the backdrop for a chapter that goes on to explain how our snap judgements about people – both positive and negative – can get us into a lot of trouble. Later, the chapter speaks about the height of male CEOs in America. Gladwell polled half the companies on the Fortune 500 list. In 2005, 58% of male CEOs were over six feet tall. General male population over six feet tall? 14.5%. Over 33% of the of the CEOs were 6’2” or taller. General population? 3.9%. Difficult to argue that is pure coincidence, but also easier to accept. Height does not stir the same controversies as race and gender.

This is just one of the many studies Gladwell cites regarding unconscious bias among the general population. Taller men are seen to be more commanding, confident, etc. If you were to poll the boards that appointed these men as CEO, however, and asked them how important height was in their determination, you would have been laughed out of the room. No one in their right mind would consciously say that height is important in the decision making process of choosing someone to run an organization. Right? Somehow, though, it is.

The point of these studies that Malcolm Gladwell cites is not to show that everyone is sexist, or racist, or heightist (if that’s a thing), but more to display that what we consciously say and believe is sometimes at odds with how we act. And this has nothing to do with hypocrisy. It is not a conscious act. Based on your upbringing, your gender, the type of news you consume, etc., your brain has made automatic connections between people, places, and things with positive and negative thoughts or feelings. Harvard has done a number of studies and tests on this, the most interesting of which is the IAT test with a link below if you are interested in trying it:

https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/selectatest.html

 

Having implicit or unconscious feelings or beliefs is about as natural as it gets. It’s part of being human and is in fact an advantage that has evolved over time to help us make decisions in the blink of an eye. Understanding these unconscious leanings, however – and casting them aside when necessary – is the next evolution in human development that can make you a better salesman or saleswoman, better leader, or simply a better person.

 

*This post contains affiliate links. But the book is still amazing. If you know anything about Malcolm Gladwell, you will agree.

 

How Shooting Free Throws Can Help Your Business

As many will know, Wilt Chamberlain is considered one of the greatest basketball players to ever live. He even once accomplished the unthinkable, scoring one hundred points in a single game! However, like many seven-foot-tall basketball players, he was a horrendous free throw shooter, averaging one season at about 38%. His career average was also abysmal at 51%. How in the world can one of the best basketball players to ever live only hit 51% of his shots from just fifteen feet away while no one was attempting to block him? Clearly there are some mind games at play, but not all of them follow the rules you would expect.

What will likely didn’t know is that Wilt Chamberlain actually knew how to improve his free throw shooting. He had even proven it worked, too. He just chose not to do it. Surprised?

In order improve his free throw percentage, Wilt Chamberlain took the advice of Rick Barry (another NBA all-time great) and shot the ball underhand, the same way you may have seen done in the movie Hoosiers. This drastically improved his percentage and eliminated a major weakness in his game for almost an entire season, which turned out to be his career best at 61% (This season also included that 100 point game, a game during which Chamberlain hit 28 of 32 free throws. However, the very next season, he decided to go back to shooting overhand, resuming his awful performance. What world class performer would do this?

Later, Wilt agreed he should have kept shooting underhand but just didn’t. He knew what was best for him. He knew what was the right choice. He simply didn’t make it. Shaquille O’Neal, another famously bad free throw shooter, said he would rather shoot 0% on his free throws than ever shoot underhand. These players were more worried about peer pressure and perception than they were about their results.

How often do we make the same decisions in the workplace and in our business? We know that making an extra sales call will yield better numbers. We know that engaging our employees hearts and minds will improve turnover and retention. We are fully aware that attention to detail and transparency with both customers and employees will create healthier business.

But sometimes, even though we are fully aware it does not make sense, we simply don’t do these things. There are myriad reasons why, but the most common is that we don’t want to make a decision that we perceive in our heads to be unpopular or difficult. We take the easier road. I challenge you to make the decisions that will get you greater results, not what will make your life easier.

When you look back at the careers of Rick Barry and Wilt Chamberlain it is unquestionable who was the better basketball player. However, what is most striking, and somewhat sad in retrospect, is that you could convincingly argue that Rick Barry was the best basketball player he was capable of being, underhand free throws and all, while Wilt Chamberlain, as good as he was, never lived up to his full potential. Unrealized potential is one of life’s great tragedies. Can you say the same about your business career?

 

***To end this post, I want to begin with a simple recommendation. If you don’t listen to the podcast This American Life, you should. I am saying nothing groundbreaking as it is one of the top downloaded podcasts in the country, but for those of you that have not yet discovered the wonderful world that is podcasts, go check it out, as that is the source of the material for this post. This American Life featured the story from Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast Revisionist History, another gem.

 

The Leadership Tool Belt: Use Your Wrench and Your Mirror Before Your Carving Knife

“This just isn’t working,” you say, and you see the your employee’s face fall and their gaze drop. Or maybe you see a fire light in their eyes. Employees will all react to your carving knife a little differently. But if things aren’t going well, you have to cut the fat, right?

Well, maybe. Too often leaders are not getting the results they want or expect and go straight to the people who are not achieving those results and start carving away. Is this effective? It certainly can be. I’m a strong believer in two principles of successful management: Hire good people and then develop them. Everything else can go haywire, but if you stick to that, chances are you will succeed.

However, once we have good people on board, don’t go straight to the knife to improve results. There are a couple tools in your tool belt to pull out first.

Wrench: If you do not have a strong process your business will struggle. Sometimes, it is a simple process holding up one task, and other times it is a fundamental way your business is run. Regardless of the scope, however, your process is the first place to look when results are failing. Each process should have a beginning, a middle, and an end. You should have milestones along the way to measure success, to ensure the process will not fail. Your processes also have to be ones that you will grow into, versus ones that you will grow out of. Too often we create a “new” process that is going to be a game changer. We then fail to measure success with vital milestones, and ensure that it is a process that we will not grow out of. If you find yourself saying, “This will work for now,” then reevaluate. If you can look at the process and see that its success relies on the strengths of the person executing it, then the process itself is not strong.

Mirror: As leaders, we typically look in the mirror last, and we need to look here sooner. At times our approach, our demeanor, our personal bias, has a larger impact on our business and employees than many of us realize. If your process is strong, but your results are poor, are you doing something to inhibit your team? Are you acting as a decision making bottleneck that is stifling your employees’ productivity and creativity? This is self-awareness, and this is where you identify your blind spots as a leader. You will also need to seek feedback from others as you look in the mirror… oftentimes others will see something that you do not.

Carving Knife: Your business is as good as your people. Even if your product or your technology is world class, its success will be magnified or diminished by the quality of the people who sell and support it. We are only as good as our people. You need to increase your expectations of your people. It is a privilege to work on your team, and with that privilege comes a responsibility. It is a responsibility to live your culture, exceed your customers’ expectations, and operate with honesty and integrity in all that you do. If you have a person on your team that is not living up to this responsibility, then you need to change the employee, or change the employee.

A Rising Tide…

This entire website is based on the premise that ideas should not be locked away in a deep dark safe within every business (or every business leader) never to see the light of day. Below is an interesting story that I believe is relevant to this mission. I stumbled across it one day when researching a potential rallying cry for my sales team as we started a new fiscal year. I believe it ties in very closely to the teamwork mentality that we need more and more in a competitive workplace and can be easily connected with an earlier post Success Is Not A Zero Sum Game.
I’ll start off with a little history lesson, if you will  bear with me for a little while. Unfortunately, as some of you will come to know, I was an English major in college, but I also made the poor decision of adding on a History minor, so you will have to put up with some of my tangents from time to time no matter how much you may not want to…
Some of you may know that the phrase “A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats” is often attributed to John F. Kennedy – or, more specifically, one of his speechwriters, Ted Sorenson. However, Ted Sorenson actually stole shamelessly from a regional chamber of commerce in New England called The New England Council. Kennedy used the phrase “A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats” so much in his speeches however, that many thought he had coined it himself.
The idea behind the phrase seems pretty simple in terms of the economy. If the overall economy does better, then the participants in that economy should do better as well. Similarly, our goal in our workplaces is to keep the tide rising, and with it all of the individuals who contribute to the results of the entire company.
However, there are always two sides to every coin, and one of Bill Clinton’s former advisors enjoyed his own addendum to the popular phrase. He liked to say that if we do not abide by appropriate policies and procedures, “the rising tide will lift some boats, but others will run aground.” Make sure that the success in your organization does not benefit some parties while proving disastrous for others. It is easy to recognize the wins that we are seeing in our own departments or divisions without realizing that other parts of our organizations – integral parts of our organizations – are being left behind. It is not necessarily their jobs to “catch up” or to “get with the program”. Decisions do not occur in a vacuum, and as you make them within your teams, realize that they create ripples. Do not let those ripples cause your coworkers to run aground!

Are You Patient Enough to Be Great?

Imagine for a moment you are a farmer. Every day you tend your fields, build scarecrows to scare away birds, water your crops, and spend the majority of your waking hours working to ensure that your crop grows and develops. After all, this is what will feed you and your family. 
Imagine further, however, that for day after day you continue flowing water and sweat into the ground waiting for a sprout and nothing shows for three years!
At this point most people’s faith would have failed, and they would have moved on to something that seemed worth their time. However, for those with the faith required to cultivate Giant Timber bamboo, this is the struggle they face. This bamboo requires three years of cultivation before sprouting and exploding toward the sky to the tune of ninety feet in approximately two months!
Now, will it take you three years before all of your hard work pays off and you see potential gains in either your bank account, your skill set, or your status of work? For God’s sake, I hope not. However, the premise still applies. Too often, we begin a project, begin some kind of skill development, begin cultivating a new talent and give it up within months after failing to realize immediate life-changing results. Dedication via habit, routine, and incremental progress is what gets you where you want to be. Many people have heard the idea that it takes 10,000 hours of work at something to become an expert. Luckily, along the way, you should see improvement and signs of progress, which should encourage and motivate you. Those milestones should drive you. Look to the next milestones instead of the end goal sometimes.
My challenge to you is take some time to reflect on whether or not you spent the past year nurturing your skills, improving you day to day abilities, and working towards being better at what you do, or if you jumped from practice to practice looking for a quick fix. Results simply are not seen overnight. They take significant time and effort to begin to see the desired outcome. If you have been watering your bamboo, the results should slowly begin to show for you over the next year.
If you have not yet seen the video of Greg Bell covering this topic, then take a few moments to watch it and reflect on what you are doing to get better and improve your skills. How are you continuing your education on the sales process, your customer service skills, and your leadership capabilities?
If you are not steadily watering your bamboo, then now sounds like a good time to start.