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.

 

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.

Culture Above All

Why do so many damn talented people fail? I see intelligent people with incredible ideas constantly failing at leading groups in the direction that their vision is telling them to go. These people are not stupid. I don’t think so at least. They simply cannot get their strategies off the ground. They make videos of early airplane designers look positively hopeful.

When most people take a look at a business and want to improve results, they often take a look at processes, procedures, and strategies. They create a game plan to change or improve and then go about enacting what they have planned. Sometimes these plans work and sometimes they don’t. There is however, something that can be focused on daily that will always driver better results. It will work each and every time. That magic pill is culture. The best quote that illustrates this has been attributed to Peter Drucker, a business and management consultant:

Culture eats strategy for breakfast.

No matter the strategy you create or the plan you come up with, it will not work if your group or organization does not have a strong culture – or even worse has a poor one. If you walk into your office everyday and not only do people not want to be there, but they actively voice it, then you have a culture issue. If your coworkers complain about hard work, then you have a culture issue. Cultivate a strong culture and you will cultivate a strong business. Here’s a hint as well: You don’t have to be a manager to do this.

People in a group need to understand the direction of the organization and work to get it moving that way. Otherwise whatever strategy you have created is destined to fail. If you create a strong culture, truly believe in it, and act it out every single day, it will become contagious and spread like chicken pox through a Kindergarten classroom. If you neglect culture, then I don’t care how smart you are. Your ceiling is barely above your head.

So next time you want to improve one of your numbers, instead of thinking of a new process or strategy, take a look instead at your positivity, at your competitive urgency or your professionalism and work to improve those instead, both personally and within your organization. You will be amazed with your results.

Success Is Not A Zero Sum Game

Everyone knows both feelings:

  • The presenter is standing at the microphone, and he calls your name. You stand up, grinning ear to ear like an idiot as people around you clap and applaud. Someone nearby likely pats you on the back – literally! You glory in the acclaim and spotlight. Or maybe you are just in a meeting or on a conference call and your individual results or your team’s results are recognized as top notch. You blush a little bit. It’s a good feeling.
  • The presenter is standing at the microphone, and he calls someone else’s name. They stand up. Jealousy, envy, even anger surge up from your stomach into your chest and throughout your body. Or maybe it is less intense and the feeling is simple mild distaste. You can’t help but lean over to your neighbor and mention the extenuating circumstance that led to this person’s success. Your not saying the you deserve it necessarily. Just saying that they don’t really either.

I wanted to share some thoughts I had over the weekend while watching a very well respected movie during my free time. Along with my girlfriend, I have been working my way through all of the best picture nominees for 2016. While I have thoroughly enjoyed all of them (and she has slept through the second half of a good few) in some way, shape, or form, they have all stretched our thinking and challenged our beliefs. They’ve inspired us in the way that only incredible pieces of cinema can, evoking in you that feeling of invincibility as you walk out of the theater or turn off the television.

 

Yesterday, she finally convinced me to watch La La Land, which was not at the top of my list even though it is the same director who wrote and directed Whiplash, one of my favorite movies (if you haven’t seen it, please stop what you’re doing and rent it. Seriously stop reading this and do it). For those of you who watched the Oscars, you may remember that La La Land was the movie that was mistakenly announced as Best Picture when in fact Moonlight was the Best Picture winner. All of the La La Land cast was already on the Oscars stage however, and had to awkwardly resume their seats while the cast and crew of Moonlight took their place. Having already seen Moonlight, I could not help but to compare the two while watching La La Land, and wonder at the Steve Harvey level blunder that was made at the awards show.

 

After a long agonizing review of the acting, the cast, the editing, the lighting, the screenwriting, the music, and other categories I can scarcely remember the names or meanings of, I came to a decision as to which one was better. What I figured out, and what I think we can bring to our own businesses and performances is something I see in our organization is that it doesn’t matter. The answer is that both movies are incredible and the success of one does not detract from the greatness of the other. Similarly, success in any organization is not a zero-sum game. What I mean by that is the success of Moonlight does not detract from the incredible movie that was La La Land, and vice versa. Too often when another coworker, salesperson, or leader is succeeding at a greater level than ourselves, we attempt to tear down their performance or invent a reason as to why they has better results than we do. “They get more sales leads. They are in a better market. They are riding on the Mr. Incredible’s coattails. If I had XYZ resource that they have, I’d have the same results.” And the list goes on.

 

When you look at the movies nominated for Best Picture, their performances stand alone and apart from each other and are judged on their merits. In the same way, we need to give our own performances honest reflections based on our individual efforts and contributions. Other employees, sales people, and leaders performances should be used to motivate and inspire you! Congratulate them on their great work! Then ask them how they did it. And steal those ideas shamelessly.