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Friday, June 10, 2011

On the Importance of Proper Goal Setting (by Tony Brazzale)

"If you don't know where you are going, you'll end up someplace else."- Yogi Berra

A recent startup piece on "Why Passion and Creativity Are Not Enough - You Need Goals, Too" reminded me of something I learned from my years growing up as a competitive swimmer and later coach - most people do not properly set goals. This happens mainly because they were never taught how, it's not a common subject taught in school and often times not even in sport.

The Merriam-Webster OnLine Dictionary defines a goal as "the end toward which effort is directed."  This is a very simplistic definition, and only barely scratches the surface.

How many times have we seen a driven professional sports team accomplish the near Herculean achievement of getting to the penultimate championship game and then completely falling apart in the final game? What went wrong? Did they have a goal - probably. Was it the right goal - probably not.  Was their goal to get to the championship, or to win the championship?  By all means, make certain your goal is high enough. Goals that are difficult to achieve and specific tend to increase performance more than goals that are not. In fact, studies have shown that 90% of laboratory and field studies involving specific and challenging goals led to higher performance than did easy or no goals.

Passion, circumstance or perhaps an exciting idea lead many of us into business - but forgetting about the end game can be fatal to that business. Goals are a very important foundation upon which every good business plan and executive summary are built as they are defining. So what makes a good goal, and how do you go about setting it?

"The great and glorious masterpiece of man is to know how to live to purpose." -Michel de Montaigne

In my experience the best way to set these goals is to make them SMART: S = Specific, M = Measurable, A = Achievable, R = Relative, T = Time-determined.  Let's break these down individually.

Specifics are the What, Why, and How of the SMART model.
What are you going to do? Ensure that you use action words in this section.  Ask yourself why is this important to and how are you going to do it. Specificity in your goal defines the end-point as opposed to just heading you in a direction. "Our plans miscarry because they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind." -Seneca

If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it - it becomes abstract instead of something real. If you can measure it you can measure your progress towards it as well.  Ensuring your goal is measurable supplies the feedback requirement of goals.  Goal-setting may have little effect if individuals cannot check where the state of their performance is in relation to their goal.  When you measure your progress, you stay on track and experience the exhilaration of achievement that spurs you on to continued effort required to reach your goals.  "There is no happiness except in the realization that we have accomplished something." -Henry Ford

You could also say "Realistic." While you want to set your goal as high as possible, it has to be realistically achievable. Goals you set which are too far out of your reach, you probably won’t commit to doing. Although you may start with the good intentions and energy, the knowledge that it’s too much for you means you will subconsciously remind yourself of this fact and that will stop you from giving it your best.

A goal can not contradict any of your other goals. When setting goals it is very important to remember that your goals must be consistent with your values, and that the goal is set relative to this constant.  Make sure the goal you are working for is something you really want, that you can be proud of for doing. Anything that runs contrary to your primary hardwiring will fail and have negative effects on you and your performance. 

It has been said that a goal is a dream with a deadline. Putting an end point on your goal gives you a clear target to work towards. If you don’t set a time, the commitment is too vague. Without a time limit, there’s no urgency to start taking action now.

In writing your goal down (make sure you do this) make certain it is written in the positive instead of the negative.  Work for what you want, not for what you want to leave behind.  A goal is something you work and run toward, not away from.

So why is all of this important for the entrepreneur? Firstly, your goals define your business to others - whether they be investors, competitors, employees, or the media.  Our goals define who we are, what we do, and how we are going to get there.  Sounds a bit like a business plan, doesn't it?  In business, goal setting has the further advantages of encouraging participants to put in substantial effort because every member has defined expectations set upon him or her.  Goals provide common purpose which crystallizes and energizes the team.  Goals focus attention towards relevant activities and away from extraneous activities.

In closing, make certain you set high reaching, challenging goals that you have a reasonable hope of achieving; make them specific; make them consistent with your other goals; and give them a deadline.

" this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth."

" We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win."
- John Fitzgerald Kennedy

About the author:  Tony Brazzale is a medicinal scientist turned business development executive.  He is the President of Biotech Business Development, Inc., an Associate of Katan Associates International. Katan Associates is a strategic business development and finance advisory consultancy group focused on the global life sciences industry whose mission is to add and create value for therapeutic and technology-based companies by implementing operational improvements and corporate capitalization strategies.  Prior to his professional career he spent 16 years as a competitive swimmer where he was a Texas high school state champion, NCAA Division I scholarshiped athlete, top 100 World Rank achiever, and Olympic Trials qualifier.  After retiring from competing, he coached a number of teams, successfully training athletes to compete at the national level. He can be followed on Twitter @biotechbusdev, e-mailed at katanassoc@gmail.com, or via telephone at 863-272-9925.

I recently met Tony and have enjoyed my interactions.  He has demonstrated skill in business and science.  His contributions cover both large and small companies ranging from the science to the business of the organizations.  He graciously offered to prepare an article relating to goals and sports, and I am thankful.  This is a very pointed piece and worthwhile advice.  Thank you Tony!

You can follow Taffy Williams on Twitter by @twilli2861 and you can email him with questions at twilli2861@aol.com and his company website  or photo website. You can also find him in the group Startup Group on Linkedin. Other articles can be found in the Charlotte, NC- small business section of Examiner.com. This blog is now listed on Alltop®.