As we move into the first quarter, many of us are focused on and excited about our goals for the year – whether they’re personal, professional, or organizational. We all want this to be a year in which we actualize our plans and accomplish everything we set out to do.
What makes each year’s annual planning more exciting to me, is that every year, researchers discover more about the science of goals. Each new discovery makes it easier for us to set goals, and easier to achieve them.
To help you set better goals for yourself and your team this year, here are 5 things to understand from the latest in goal-setting research.
Steven Kotler, New York Times Bestselling Author, best known for his work in the discipline of “flow” states of consciousness, puts it this way:
“What the research shows is that not every goal is the same, nor is every goal appropriate for every situation and—most importantly—the wrong goal in the wrong situation can seriously hinder performance and actually lower productivity.”
Specifically, in a recent email on the topic of goal-setting, Kotler cites research showing that “big goals lead to the largest increase in motivation and productivity.” He calls these “high and hard goals.” They’re also known as “big, hairy, audacious goals,” a term coined by Jim Collins in his bestselling book, Built to Last.
But “high and hard goals” are not the whole picture. They can be overwhelming, and it can be difficult to see progress when they’re still far in the distance. This can be demotivating if the “high and hard goal” is not supported by the second type of goal: Clear and achievable.
“Clear goals,” says Kotler, “are all the tiny steps one takes along the way to the accomplishment of that mission. They exist over much smaller timescales.”
Gary Latham, a University of Toronto psychologist who, with University of Maryland psychologist Edwin Locke, pioneered the science of goal-setting, says that in order for goals to work, “You have to believe in what you’re doing.”
That’s the purpose of high and hard goals. Very often, sales leaders over-focus on quotas, commissions, and organizational goals, and forget that salespeople are human beings with complex motivations. Of course, most salespeople care a great deal about their monthly and quarterly commissions and bonuses.
But if money is the only motivation you give your sales team, you’ll lose them the first time a more lucrative opportunity comes along. Beyond that, if you don’t give them something to believe in, they won’t perform to their fullest potential.
Each salesperson’s high and hard goals must be uniquely aligned to what matters to them. To set high and hard goals, coaches must sit down with their salespeople and help them identify their own big, hairy, audacious goal for themselves. Maybe they want to be CEO one day. Maybe they want to retire to a private island with their family. Maybe the goal is to give a TED Talk or become a NYT best-selling sales celebrity.
Whatever the high and hard goal is, help salespeople document it, and then examine how their career and their annual goals can align and support progress toward the high and hard. When you’ve done that, then you’ll have the benefits Latham talks about when he says:
“Big goals work best when there’s an alignment between an individual’s values and the desired outcome of the goal. When everything lines up, we’re totally committed–meaning we’re paying even more attention, are even more resilient, and are way more productive as a result.”
Alone, high and hard goals can be demotivating. If you decide to climb to the top of a mountain, you may give up after a few days when you realize you’re still farther from the top than from the bottom, and you’re hungry and cold and sore.
But if you set clear and achievable goals between now and reaching the summit, including establishing skills, strength, and tools to get there, then it’s easier to stay the course and easier to ultimately achieve the high and hard result.
For your sales team, this means breaking down their high and hard goal into smaller chunks, such as the promotions they will need and other goals they must meet. Then break that down further into what they need to do this quarter, this month, this week, and this day.
Some of these goals will necessarily be quota-related. But in order to be clear and achievable, they must also include goals such as, “Make X number of prospecting calls each week,” “Spend X number of hours studying new sales skills,” “Seek out mentoring and coaching at least X number of times each month,” and so on.
If you’ve ever set a goal to lose weight, work out, or fit into a new outfit, then you understand this fact: Good habits are necessary to the meeting of clear and achievable goals.
The same is true for your sales team. While you’re setting goals with each team member, help them identify the specific habits they need to change in order to meet their goals. If they have habits of putting off prospecting calls “until I have time for it,” or of skipping straight to presentation when they think a prospect is ready (rather than when the best practice calls for it), then these are habits they can focus on changing.
Replace bad habits with supportive habits. Supportive habits may include things like getting their prospecting done first thing in the morning; coming into the office with their coffee and lunch already prepared so it doesn’t form a distraction later in the day; building a block of time into their schedule for pre-call planning; establishing weekly or monthly check-ins with their sales coach; and so on.
Supportive habits are easiest to form when they are enabled by a supportive structure. Help salespeople establish checklists and then build reinforcement of new habits into their daily workflow. For sales habits, this is best built into the CRM, where the salesperson spends time already, so that it becomes an integral part of their daily activities.
Flow is an optimal state of performance, in which you are completely focused on the activity at hand and its achievement. Flow is a combination of being “in the moment” and “flowing toward an outcome.” It is a state that both feels good and is highly productive.
You can help your salespeople achieve flow as they move toward their clear goals and their high and hard goals this year by removing obstacles and supporting their flow state. For instance:
Every year, I get excited about my new goals, and especially about all the new techniques and research that can help me achieve them. And, because my company produces software that enables sales teams, I get excited about everything we build into Membrain to help our customers achieve their goals.
This past year, for instance, we improved the goal-setting tools inside our software. The improved tools help managers easily set goals for, and with their salespeople, so you can readily apply the lessons of the past year and support your team in achieving their goals for this year, with just a few clicks.
We would love to show you how it works, and all the many ways that our platform supports goal achievement. Contact us for a demo.
George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills and processes.