Having Goals is 90% of Achieving Them

by Dan Blank on June 15, 2010

Many business conversations I have start with me asking: "What are your goals?"

It’s a surprisingly challenging question. We often talk about ‘what we are trying to do,’ but rarely talk about where we are going. Goals are often vague and distant. Without focused, measurable, short-to-mid-term goals, how do we know if we are moving forward? How do we know if we are truly accomplishing anything?

Desire alone can have you working 24/7, but without specific goals, you could end up just spinning your wheels. You could end up anywhere. Actual outcomes are what we are interested in – specific goals, not vague hopes. What does that mean? Let’s take a look at three examples:

If you are an editor at a magazine, maybe you want to see your role expand, your brand thrive, your reputation grow. If you are an author, you want to have a hit book, meet other writers around the world, and perhaps live off of your writing. If you are a business, perhaps you want to move your marketing strategy into social media, and want to begin creating interactive media yourself.

The Magazine Editor

  • The Common Approach: A magazine editor wants their reputation to grow, but is still creating articles as they did a decade ago, and still measuring their effectiveness by a single factor: that it was published.
  • How to Set Goals: Instead, they could be considering how to measure reputation, the business factors that drive their brand’s survival, and what competencies they need to build for their role to expand.
  • Examples of Specific, Measurable Goals: Reputation: within three months, a 20% increase in number of mentions by other media sources and blogs; two additional speaking engagements at industry events; an average of 5 daily ReTweets of their content.

The Author

  • The Common Approach: Just like a job seeker, many authors keep blindly sending query letters to agents and publishers. It is viewed as a lottery ticket: one day someone will call them back, validate everything the author ever thought of themselves, and magically, their manuscript will be turned into a respected best selling book, making them an ‘author.’
  • How to Set Goals: Perhaps they are the .01% of the world who gets lucky like that. But for the rest of us, they might consider: is the goal a book (a physical object on a shelf) or is the goal to write and have an engaged audience? Is the goal to be called an ‘author’ or is the goal money? Isn’t the goal having a community of fans who love your writing?
  • Examples of Specific, Measurable Goals: Write one short story every month, and publish it on a blog and newsletter. Grow readership (as measured by newsletter subscribers and blog unique visitors to new material) by 20% every quarter, measured year over year. Meet 3 successful authors each month, and ask them specifically about their experience, before, during and after publication. Grow Twitter follower count by 20 (real) people every two weeks, and your newsletter list by 10% a month.

The Business:

  • The Common Approach: Like so many things, a business may slowly begin using online content marketing or social media, often focused on by a couple people in the company, and ignored by the rest. They will follow the trends, find time when they can, and have many moments of fits and starts.
  • How to Set Goals: How does content marketing & social media align to a core value or goal of the company? How can it align to customer service, product research, marketing promotions? It’s not that these tasks should be viewed only in terms of selfish goals, but if the effort isn’t aligned to specific areas that the company truly values, then it will always be in danger of being a fruitless effort, with little support by management.
  • Examples of Specific, Measurable Goals: When brainstorming ideas for online media, run a three month test, carefully measuring growth each week. The goal is not to ‘publish a weekly video show on trends in our industry’ the goal is an average of 50 daily viewers by the end of the first month, 100 by the end of the second month, and 150 by the end of the third month. And these viewers must be exactly the type of audience that your company highly values, and their attention must somehow be valued in your business cycle – via branding, exposure to ads or sign-up forms, feedback, etc. For social media, this can be tested in similar ways, setting tactics, benchmarks and goals. The next step is to not just measure ‘number of views,’ but how their attention translates to business goals.

Having specific goals is VERY challenging to one’s identity. It forces us to make a choice, which is often the one thing we try to avoid. Making a choice limits the variety of potential outcomes in your life. BUT… it increases the chances of the one single outcome that you desire – to actually come true.

G. Michael Maddock and Raphael Louis Vitón posted an interesting article recently that I feel speaks to why people fear setting goals: Knowing vs. Learning.

"A learning organization readily acknowledges its incompetence and sees this as an opportunity to gain additional knowledge and improve. Perhaps most important, it sees mistakes as a natural part of learning, growing, and getting smarter—an extremely important point."

Setting goals is hard for people because it invites failure simply by opening up the possibility of failure. When you have unspecific goals, it’s easy to justify a situation as favorable, and your efforts as justified. With goals – you either met the goal, or you didn’t. You succeeded or you failed.

Many people hate that. They get their emotional needs of success or failure by watching sorts, and spend their days hidden in a cube or office creating easy or nonspecific goals that have little downside.

Goals push you not just to achieve, but to define what it is you want to achieve.

What are your goals? If you can answer this question, then you are already 90% of the way to achieving them.


Clearly, I don’t have the answers, and quite frankly, no one does. But it’s always helpful to bounce ideas off of someone else. If there is any way you think I can help, give me a call anytime: 973-981-8882. You can also follow me on Twitter: @DanBlank

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

data recovery software June 24, 2010 at 4:49 am

Short term goals are very important as the act as guiding point. They tell whether the path chosen is correct or not.
They help in talking corrective action in and accomplishing the desired goal.
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