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Brett Davidson: Getting the most from goal-setting

The new year provides a great opportunity to learn from successes and missteps

We all know advisers who have 20 years experience and others that have merely repeated the same things for that time. There is a world of difference. To accelerate one’s rate of learning, it is vital to pause and reflect on what has been happening.

The review

We use a simple process of reflective questions at the end of each 90-day cycle of work. I am sure you have read stuff like this before, but the learning comes from the discipline of carrying it out religiously.

The key questions we review are:

  • Did we achieve our quarterly goals?
  • Business plan review:
    • How are we progressing compared to our business plan?
    • What is going well?
    • What is not?
    • Is any remedial action required to get back on track to our business plan?
  • Learning questions:
    • What did we do well?
    • What could we double down on?
    • What did we learn?
    • What could we do differently moving forward?

Then we set our goals for the next quarter.

The learning

There are some key takeaways from this process.

1. You have to hit your objectives

In the past, I have set goals and not hit them. This is a disaster on a few levels and I see a lot of businesses make the same mistake. If you do not always hit your goals, you cannot trust yourself.

I have heard a lot of businesses say they would rather shoot for the stars, even if they only hit the moon. Personally, I think this is great advice for your longer-term goals (e.g. five years plus). However, for annual goals and quarterly goals, you need to set targets you can hit.

Continually overreaching and missing targets becomes a bad habit and can make your discussions with your team meaningless. They will not trust you either.

We have all worked in places where the management sets a ridiculous goal at the start of the year, making everyone instantly demotivated.

Setting goals that the business then achieves every quarter and every year starts to build trust and confidence. Once that muscle has been built, you are in a much stronger position to ramp up the effort and ambition if you want to.

I am all for big, hairy, audacious goals but you have got to know when to set them and when you have half a chance of achieving them, otherwise they do not work.

2. Focus on the inputs not the financials

For us, a quarterly goal will not be a financial target. Yes, we have a financial target for the quarter but our quarterly goals are projects that will make our business better in 90-days time.

For example: holding a marketing event, improving a process, developing a new product or service or hiring a new team member.

3. Learn from what you did well

If you did things well then take plenty of time to see it, feel it and – most importantly – understand why you performed well.

The GB rowing team review what they did well after every win, so they can repeat it. This is a great habit to learn when it comes to your successes.

4. Double down on what works

If you have identified things that are working, double down on those things, rather than trying to create a whole bunch of new initiatives that might just spread you too thin. Marketing success is a good example.

Just because there are nine areas that leads come from, does not mean they are all worth your limited time, energy and financial resources. I would much rather see a business focus on the top three most successful areas for lead generation and then do more of those.

In fact, if the number one area outperforms the other two, you might even double down the effort in just that one area. You get the gist. This allows a business to continue building on its strengths.

5. Do not change goals part way through

Whatever you do, do not change your objectives part way through a set period (e.g. a quarter or a year).

I understand why businesses sometimes do this: they are miles off track and the goal has become meaningless. However, the desire to alter a goal usually relates to point one – that the goal was too optimistic.

Do not change the goal. This way you can learn something from the mistake when you conduct your quarterly review. There is a lesson to be learned if you are continually not hitting your goals. When you change the goal part way through the period, you do not allow this to show up in your data.

My advice is to think long and hard before setting a goal. If you are not 100 per cent serious about hitting it, then do not set it. If you do set a goal and find yourself off track, then change the action, not the goal.

Brett Davidson is founder of FP Advance

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