I have a non-standard philosophy on goal setting.  I believe that if you hire the right people (winners), they naturally want to succeed.  Goals themselves are not motivators.  Goals are a tool to help winners measure, improve, and adjust their course and then, upon achievement, celebrate their wins.

Here is my philosophy on why goals are important:

  • Know when you're winning:  Goals give the right people the opportunity to feel a sense of accomplishment when they meet or exceed them.
  • Self-improvement: Goals give you the opportunity to re-evaluate and improve if you are off track.
  • Create a culture of winning:  Winning is contagious.  Set achievable goals.  There is an enormous intangible value when a team is exceeding its goals.

The first two rationales are straight-forward.  Let me further explain the third.

Many companies believe that setting far-reaching goals is the best way to motivate people to over-achieve.  I don’t subscribe to that philosophy.  I believe that winners are naturally overly ambitious as it is and likely set goals that are too aggressive to begin with.  So, again, if you hire the right people (that is a very important detail here), you can take a different approach to goal setting.

It's important to me that everyone sets goals that are achievable.   It's an interesting thing, actually.  I’ve found that if a "very achievable" goal is 10 and I force someone to set his goal at 11 (hoping to provide myself buffer to get them to 10), then they end up at 9.  If I set the goal at 9, a winner more often than not gets to 10.  If everyone around her is also on track to hit 10, most of that group generally gets to 11.  It's counter-intuitive, right?  Well, not really.

Winners want to win.  They feed off of it.  They get hyper-competitive when they are winning and can do some amazing things when focused and feeling positive.  However, I find that winners are very emotional.  When they're winning, they motivate everyone around them; when they're losing, it has the opposite effect.  They fall fast when they're not close to hitting their goal.

When setting financial goals, it is more difficult to trust in this strategy.  If I want to get to $500 million, I set the goal at $450 million.  One might think that I'm leaving $50 million on the table, not providing the proper motivation to over-achieve, and over-paying people for results that are too easy to achieve.  I've proven this time and time again that by hiring the right people, setting the goal at $450 million gets us to $550 million.  It's when I set the goal at $550 million that I've failed.  It requires discipline, patience, and a lot of trust but it really works.

So, my advice to you:  set goals for yourself and your team that are "very achievable."  Know when you're winning, adjust when you're not, and make winning contagious.