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CHALLENGE YOUR EMPLOYEES TO GIVE IT THEIR ALL, AND THEY'LL GIVE YOU EVEN MORE
By MARK MURPHY
McGraw-Hill EducationCopyright © 2014 Mark Murphy
All rights reserved.
Set HARD Goals
Leadership IQ's Hundred Percenter Index Questions
I think the organization's strategy will make us more successful.
My assigned individual goals for this year will help me grow and develop.
The work I do makes a difference in people's lives.
Our goals are one of the few things we truly control in this world. And if you're in charge of other people's goals, to a large degree, you control those as well. The good news is it doesn't require innate talent to set and achieve extraordinary goals. Everyone has the capacity to accomplish virtually anything imaginable. But contrary to what most people think, it's not daily habits or raw intellect or how many numbers get written on a worksheet that decide goal success. Rather, HARD Goals are what excite the brain and push us hard to achieve greatness.
Just think about your own most significant professional or personal accomplishment. Maybe you invented the coolest product in your industry, doubled your company's revenue, got that big promotion, or even lost 30 pounds or ran a marathon. Whatever it was, I bet it resulted from an incredibly challenging, deeply emotional, and highly visual goal. A goal that pushed you outside your comfort zone, forced you to learn new things, and made you feel scared, exhilarated, and 100% committed all at the same time. On that day, when you finally hit your big goal, you felt as fulfilled as you've ever been. Even now, months or years later, just thinking about achieving that goal makes you feel highly satisfied. I'm not talking about some temporary high, such as the one you get from eating chocolate. I mean deep, life-altering, perspective-changing fulfillment.
The overwhelming majority of human beings have the potential to achieve that same kind of Hundred Percenter greatness. They just need some gutsy, challenging goals to help them get there. HARD Goals work because they push us past our comfort zones, challenge our beliefs about what's possible, and force us to learn new skills. HARD Goals stimulate the brain, making us wide awake and aware. And they deliver such an overwhelming sense of empowerment and pride that they leave us no choice but to get started immediately and to never give up.
Most of us already know from our own experiences how effective these kinds of goals are. Yet the majority of managers set employee goals that are small, achievable, realistic, and easy—goals that nudge employees toward complacency instead of driving them toward greatness. It's not just managers and organizations that feel the pain of these inadequate and uninspiring goals. Your employees are suffering too. A Leadership IQ survey found that only 15% of employees strongly agree that their goals will help them achieve great things. And only 13% of employees really believe that their goals this year will help them reach their full potential.
100% Leaders Have Courage
Demanding more of ourselves and each other is scary. Some leaders fear that their employees are already pushed too far. Other leaders subscribe to the religion of Happiology and its slogan of "Don't do today what you can put off until tomorrow." In other cases, organizations throw roadblocks in front of 100% Leaders who otherwise would test their employees' limits. We see this in situations where no goal can be approved until every resource is allocated, every milestone clarified, every assumption tested, every participant vetted, every response anticipated, every market researched, and every skill developed.
We might be afraid of challenges, but, ironically, companies generally don't die because they tackled a challenge that was too big or they pushed themselves too hard. In virtually every major business failure, adhering to the status quo was the cause behind the business's undoing. Kodak didn't meet the challenge when Fuji attacked, nor did Sears when Walmart moved in for the assault. The Big Three automakers have made sticking to the status quo an art form—whether it's union contracts or high oil prices, they never met a tough challenge they couldn't duck or postpone. How many different companies were status quo-ing themselves to death when Google first emerged? Or Amazon? Or Southwest? Or Microsoft? Or Dell? Or Yamaha? Or Honda? (Please note some of these companies now face significant challenges. So ask yourself: Are they in trouble because they challenged themselves too much or because they became so enamored with their own success that they stopped looking for greater challenges?)
Yes, companies with challenging goals do fail. But it's rarely, if ever, the goal itself that causes the failure. Rather, what our research shows is that the failure occurs in how leaders communicate, execute, and/or resource the goal. What's more, companies with the guts to set challenging goals that are bigger than themselves typically have the cultural constitution to pick themselves up from failure and start again. In addition, our research shows that people who set HARD Goals feel up to 75% more fulfilled than do people with weaker goals.
There's simply no room for adequate goals in the Hundred Percenter workplace. And 100% Leaders have the courage to set HARD Goals.
First, let's take a look at why the goals you're currently setting might be holding your people back from reaching their full potential.
Are SMART Goals Dumb?
Virtually every company sets goals for its employees, and what manager hasn't set a SMART goal (most commonly defined as Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-bound)? But when Leadership IQ studied 4,182 workers from 397 organizations to see what kind of goal-setting processes actually help employees achieve great things, we learned that SMART goals often act as impediments to, not enablers of, bold action and actually encourage mediocre and poor performance.
As part of our study, we wanted to identify what aspects of goal setting really predict whether an employee will achieve great things. After all, the purpose of goals isn't to help us achieve mediocre results. Goals are supposed to help us achieve extraordinary results. We wanted to know, for example, if achievable and realistic goals drive people to great achievements, or if greatness comes from having goals that are really difficult and that push us out of our comfort zones.
To answer these questions, we conducted a stepwise multiple regression analysis to discover what kinds of goals are most likely to drive people to achieve great things. Stepwise multiple regression is a statistical technique that predicts values of one variable (e.g., achieving greatness) on the basis of two or more other variables (e.g., whether goals are achievable, difficult, and so forth).
Our analysis revealed eight predictors of whether people's goals were going to help them achieve great things. They are listed here in order of statistical importance:
1. I can vividly picture how great it will feel when I achieve my goals.
2. I will have to learn new skills to achieve my assigned goals for this year.
3. My goals are absolutely necessary to help this company.
4. I actively participated in creating my goals for this year.
5. I have access to the formal training I will need to accomplish my goals.
6. My goals for this year will push me out of my comfort zone.
7. My goals will enrich the lives of others (e.g., customers, the community).
8. My goals are aligned with the organization's top priorities for this year.
A few things should jump out at you here. First, some of the SMART goal characteristics—such as achievable, measurable, and realistic—had no unique predictive power in this analysis. In fact, when we conducted a separate correlation analysis, we found that the question about SMART goals (i.e., "We use SMART goals as our goal-setting process") had no meaningful correlation with employees achieving great things.
The second thing that probably hits you is that in order for people to achieve great things, their goals must require them to learn new skills and to leave their comfort zones. That's something that SMART goals don't allow. Because instead of pushing us toward greatness, SMART goals tell us: "Hold on a minute. Be realistic. Don't push beyond your resources. This needs to be achievable, so just play it safe and stay within your limitations." Here again, using a correlation analysis, we found that the question about achievable goals (i.e., "My goals are achievable with my current skills and/or knowledge") had no meaningful correlation with achieving great things.
Now, having said all that, I want to clarify that SMART goals are not all bad. For instance, there's nothing wrong with having a specific goal. In fact, the more specific our goals are, the more likely we are to achieve them. But if a goal doesn't ask people to learn new skills and to leave their comfort zones, it's not going to drive greatness. SMART goals were a brilliant methodology for the slow-moving, command-and-control 1950s era for which they were created. But in today's fast-moving world that demands constant innovation, they have some flaws. If you're still using SMART goals, don't worry. HARD Goals will allow you to "amp up" your existing goals and push past roadblocks such as "achievable" and "realistic," vastly increasing the likelihood of setting meaningful goals that result in great achievements.
I want to share two more critical insights from our regression analysis. The first is that goals need to be much more than just words on a form. For a goal to drive greatness, that goal has to leap off the page. It has to be so vividly described that we can feel how great it will be to achieve it. Second, a goal has to be bigger than ourselves. We have to identify whose lives will be enriched by our goals. And those goals had better be absolutely necessary (and also aligned with your organization's top priorities), or they aren't going to drive anyone to achieve great things.
Here's how HARD Goals work.
After years of studying Hundred Percenters and the 100% Leaders who enable them, we've distilled the critical success factors of goal setting into the following methodology:
Heartfelt. We feel an emotional attachment to a goal; it scratches an existential itch.
Animated. Our goal is so vividly described and presented that to not reach it leaves us wanting.
Required. A goal needs to feel as critical to our continued existence as air and water.
Difficult. A goal needs to push us outside our comfort zones and to test our limits.
You'll recognize some of the better-known 100% Leaders by the HARD Goals they've set. The HARD Goal in Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address steeled our resolve to fight so that "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." John F. Kennedy's HARD Goal asked the nation to "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." Ronald Reagan's HARD Goal demanded "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" Winston Churchill's HARD Goal made clear that "whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender." But you don't have to be a world leader to issue a HARD challenge. You just have to be willing to push past what's easy—to do what's right.
I'm not a natural runner. For most of my life, I wouldn't run even if chased. But a few years ago, my wife (who used to run cross-country) issued me a HARD Goal of running a marathon. It wasn't easy (each step hurt a little more), it wasn't pretty (imagine a sausage with feet), and it sure as heck wasn't fast (over five hours). I once did a four-hour run on a treadmill (which probably hurt worse than the actual race) as part of my training. I also gave up hours of comfortably sitting on my butt on my couch (and I've got a really comfortable couch) during football season.
On any given day, if you had asked me if sitting on my couch watching TV would make me happier than running, I'd have said yes. And if you had totaled up every one of those days during my two-year training period, my "happiness score" would mathematically tilt in favor of sitting. But when the race was over and the nausea had passed and I could walk again, if you had asked me if I was a better person for running a marathon, had discovered an inner strength, had learned that a lack of natural talent should never be an excuse for avoiding a challenge, had become less fearful of big challenges, and had acquired more character and life lessons to offer my children, I would have resoundingly answered yes!
Admittedly, my marathon goal was pretty small compared with the famous HARD Goals mentioned above. We might never find ourselves sitting behind the same desks as Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy, or Reagan, faced with decisions that affect millions of lives. But every business plan we write represents an opportunity for greatness. And every sales presentation, customer interaction, budget request, and financial approval is a chance for us to push ourselves and our employees toward untold greatness. Sure, we can take the easy way and do only what's minimally required. We can stonewall and hide behind the imposed constraints of achievable and realistic goals and encourage our people to do the same. Or we can set HARD Goals.
Let's get started.
When Leadership IQ works with organizations to help identify and solve their pain points, one factor we look to identify is: Do employees care about their goals? I've had people look me right in the eye and say, "This goal means nothing to me. It's my boss who cares." And I've lost count of the number of CEOs who've said, "Well, it's our chairman who really feels this goal is important." If people only see a goal through for the boss, the chairman, the board, or just to get a paycheck, they're not going to chase to the far corners of the globe to achieve that goal. And if they hit a roadblock, they're probably going to stop even trying. Not having that heartfelt connection, on average, cuts into employee willingness to "give" to a goal by 50%.
Early in my career, I advised seriously troubled organizations (ones teetering on the brink of bankruptcy). One way I tested whether or not a struggling organization had the mettle to launch a successful turnaround was to walk around the front lines and ask employees, "Why do you care if this company succeeds or fails?" If I heard a lot of responses like "Because I'll lose my job" or "I need a paycheck," I knew the company probably wouldn't make it. But if I heard something more heartfelt like "I've poured my heart and soul into this place, and I'm not gonna let it fail" or "Too many people are counting on us" or "Our customers need us to survive," then I knew there was a great shot at a comeback.
Ideally, when you ask your people "Why do you care about this goal?" the response you'll hear is "This goal is my passion, it's what I'm here to do" or even "What I really care about is the finish line. I'm totally pumped to get to the payoff." But all too often leaders and organizations get so hung up on making sure their goal-setting forms are filled out correctly and that each goal translates into a simple number that "analytically" fits a spreadsheet that they forget to ask the single most important question: Do you care about this goal?
Leadership IQ was recently called in to improve employee engagement at a large manufacturing company. The company was trying to push through a lot of operational changes but was getting big-time resistance from the unions. We conducted an engagement survey with the Hundred Percenter Index, and at the end of the survey, we asked a series of open-ended questions including: "Please describe a time in the past few months when you felt really motivated" and "Please describe a time in the past few months when you felt really demotivated."
While delivering the survey feedback to the leadership team, I paused before showing the analysis of those open-ended questions and asked, "Why should the union employees feel a deep emotional connection to the operational changes you're making?" Virtually every leader in the room answered, "Well, because they get to keep their jobs, and we've told them that at least a dozen times!"
Next I showed the team the analysis from the open-ended questions as answered by the union workers. Here's one typical example of what nearly all of the union workers had to say (we have removed some words that could identify the company and individual):
Please describe a time in the past few months when you felt really motivated. "One of my brothers at Local XXX was working on trying to fix a [piece of equipment]. And I had just gone through the certification on this equipment. So when he asked for my help and I solved it with the new skills I had just finished learning, I got really pumped. And he was too. Helping my guys is a real thrill."
Please describe a time in the past few months where you felt really demotivated. "Being threatened with [the loss of] my job every single day."
There were about 1,000 comments that echoed this example. I asked the leaders, "When push comes to shove, whose emotional attachment is going to be bigger: yours or the union brothers'?" The leaders' stunned expressions pretty much gave the answer.
Excerpted from HUNDRED PERCENTERS by MARK MURPHY. Copyright © 2014 Mark Murphy. Excerpted by permission of McGraw-Hill Education.
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