Make Your Goal Setting More Successful

By: Steve Lewis
Business Partner & Executive Coach
The Retirement Practice Ltd

Not too long ago I was chatting to a good friend of mine, Dave, and we were talking about my work and studies in the world of coaching and behavioural change, and how these apply to business. I was struck by something Dave said about ‘Goals’ that I thought I would share with you and explore because I believe it will make your goal setting more successful.

Goal setting is something I am sure you are very familiar with, and you will no doubt have goals that you have set for yourself, your business, and your clients. I have been brought up in a world where goals are a good thing to have. I have read, listened, and watched great people such as: Stephen Covey; Brian Tracy; Zig Ziglar; and Tony Robbins all talk about goal setting – and how I can achieve everything I ever wanted!

Goals ARE a good thing to have

So, when I was chatting with Dave you can imagine my surprise when, in passing, I thought I heard him say; “I don’t believe in goals – I think they just make people unhappy”. At the time, I did not challenge him at the time, but his words stayed with me.

Goal setting is a fundamental part of the coaching experience. There is rarely a coaching conversation that will not start with a question such as ‘So, what is your goal for today?’ We even see this is in the most established coaching model of all, called the GROW model, written by an icon in coaching called Sir John Whitmore. The ‘G’ in the GROW model stands for GOALS! And a well-practised coach is likely to spend a fair amount of time just clarifying Goals with you. So how can I ‘not believe in Goals?’

When the chance to challenge Dave came, I discovered that he did believe in goals but what he was commenting on was this:

‘People who are incredibly goal orientated are often never content, nor fulfilled, because once they achieve a goal, they set another one and are therefore always on the journey. The danger is – they never actually arrive at their desired destination.

Now, I do agree with this. I have seen many people in my time, so obsessed with the Goal, that they never seem to be content in life. While they may have been successful in achieving their last goal, that was just not enough… and on the cycle continues.

Dave makes a great observation

I have been guilty myself of getting wrapped up in goals in life. So, have things changed? Is there a new approach to this that we should be thinking about?

I think there is, and we can look around us to see the evidence. There are changing attitudes in many places.

Let’s start with the workplace

Perhaps this is brought on by the working population becoming dominant in the millennial generation who, it would seem, have different expectations from life than their elders. Businesses all around the world are now placing far more focus on purpose and values, rather than just achieving a goal.

The old thinking of ‘Visions; Missions, Strategies; Goals; Tactics’ is, in my opinion, being taken over by ‘Purpose’.

There is also great change in attitudes in society itself

Global warming is now a cause championed by all generations and is impacting on our daily lives. Not just in extreme weather experiences, but also in practical aspects of life such as the rubbish collection; taxation of goods; or the prioritisation of traffic on our roads.

Perhaps most evidently in financial services where we have seen the development of ESG investing and the real growth in consumer interest of how money is actually invested by the manager in the City.

There is also what I see as a response to natural changes in life

As we go through transitions, and begin to see the world in different ways. Events like the global pandemic of Covid-19 make us think differently about what is important in life. Personal changes, created through relationships, family events, or health can also create impact.

I am personally very interested in how folk change as they move through to full retirement, and have my own view that the goal setting processes of the business gurus of the past become far less important as other factors take over.


Value-based goal setting

So, how do we make goal setting successful, and how does the goal setting individual change their approach? Dave and I spoke some more and we came up with this statement: ‘Goal setting is most successful when the goal is highly aligned with the values of the person; the client; their family, or indeed the organisation, and the people in the organisation’. To simplify this further and make it sound more like a formula:

Successful Goals sit inside Values

It may help to put this into a picture:

Following this formula allows us to stay goal focused, by combining these with our values in life.

As individuals, if we set goals that are highly aligned to our values, I suggest we have a far greater chance of achieving contentment. We could call this fulfilment, and some may say happiness.

So, in my subsequent chats with Dave, we agree: ‘Don’t stop setting goals! Just check in and think whether these goals align with your values’.

Witness the changes in clients as they make life transitions

As we go through life, our values are likely to develop, and may even change.

For me, I am very interested in the transition that clients go through when they finish their primary working life and move onto what I like to call their ‘second life’.

Transitions can, of course, occur at many other times in life, such as: moving in with a partner; starting work; having children; redundancy and work change.

Each of these events provides the opportunity to once again explore the contest between values and goals with your client, just to make sure together you are still on the right path.

This is where coaching and financial advice cross paths

There has been a lot of work on how to explore values in the coaching environment, and techniques exist such as:

  • Value selection cards
  • Checklists
  • Questionnaires
  • Conversations
  • Role play
  • Drawing
  • Careful listening.

Stephen Covey gives us a great example with ‘Begin with the end in mind’ and the story of being at a funeral and hearing the mourners talk.

When this is about you … what would you want them to be saying? I suspect that they are more likely to be talking about your behaviours and values, rather than your last business deal.

Talk about values may turn people off

The language we use matters. It may be easier to talk to some clients about their life in general, and then summarise back to them and explore the topic.

For example: a client may talk a lot about an event where some colleagues at work were left out of a process:

“So fairness is important to you”, might be a good summary statement to reflect a value that you have heard.

To sum this up for you and encourage you to have a look around this topic, I am going to use some words from Dr Russ Harris, author of several books including The Happiness Trap: Stop Struggling, Start Living’.

I pull out two particular statements

  1. Values are here and now; goals are in the future
    I just think this is simple and wise. To get an idea of this, look up on YouTube: ‘Russ Harris Values Goals’ and watch ‘the two kids in a car’ metaphor, which shows how being more aware of your values and less focused on the goal itself can just create a far better life.
  2. ‘Pursue your values vigorously, but hold them lightly’
    I like this counsel as it’s suggesting our values should not be our shackles, because they will develop, and get reprioritised, depending on how life moves along. It also recognises that some people don’t get excited by these things, so don’t make values too heavy in your life.

I hope this tale has helped you to think about your own goals, and how you might approach this subject with clients. The simple formula is ‘successful goals sit inside values’.

Let’s start a conversation pfspower.org/forum


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