Leadership Barometer 42 Impossible Goals

March 16, 2020

Does your organization establish goals that seem impossible to reach? If so, you are not alone.

Many organizations go through a negotiation process with individuals and teams to establish annual performance goals. Often, the person or team is asked for their opinion on the best that can be achieved in the following year.

Then, just for good measure, senior managers tack on an additional 15 to 25% and set that as the target goal.

When employees learn to anticipate this markup process, they instinctively sandbag their initial offer to account for the anticipated bump by senior management. It becomes a game of cat and mouse to establish reasonable stretch goals, and in the end, the organization and its employees suffer.

I believe a better process starts with an understanding of what the entire organization needs and then breaks down individual and team performance goals that will ensure the organization meets its commitments.

Quite often, goals set by senior managers seem unrealistic or unobtainable, which has a significant negative impact on trust. When this happens, employees take on a fatalistic viewpoint that the team has no chance to perform up to expectations. Team members hope they can achieve the goal, but deep down they don’t believe it is possible.

This sequence creates a Pygmalion effect where the negative outcome is nearly guaranteed.

The truth is, you cannot “hope” your way to success. You must believe and expect success for it to become reality.

When stretching for seemingly impossible goals, the most important ingredient is not technology, market size, manufacturing capacity, quality processes, sales force expertise, HR policies, or any other tangible enablers. The most important ingredient is belief.

This fundamental principle has been identified by philosophers and social psychologists numerous times throughout history. It seems that, through the ages, our civilization keeps discovering the same ideas. Here are a few famous quotations from historical figures you may recognize. Notice how they all say the same thing in different words.

Zig Zigler – “When you believe it, you will see it.”
Earl Nightingale – “We become what we think about.”
Brian Tracy – “If you think you can do it and hang on to that vision, you will accomplish it.”
Henry Ford – “If you think you can, or if you think you can’t… You are right.”
Lou Holtz – “If you get people to believe in themselves, they will set bigger goals.”
Maxwell Maltz – “What you believe will happen actually becomes physical reality.”
Norman Vincent Peale – “The power of positive thinking: No success occurs without it.”
Andrew Carnegie – “You will not be able to do it until you believe you can do it.”
Tony Robbins – “Beliefs have the power to create and the power to destroy.”
Napoleon Hill – “What the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.”

This list is just a small sample of available quotations on the same topic. The phenomenon of creating success by visualizing it already being accomplished is well known.

Unfortunately, most teams in the working world have forgotten this time-honored wisdom. They wring their hands and lament that achieving the goal set out by management is simply impossible. Well of course it is impossible if they believe that.

Quite often, teams believe they can’t accomplish the goal because they cannot visualize how it could possibly be done. It is important to not get discouraged at the start because the “how” is not evident. Forget about how you will accomplish a goal; simply set out to believe that it will happen.

There are many tools available that can help you accomplish the goal. Resolve to find the right ones for your situation. If you do that, you will achieve the goal in ways you could not possibly imagine at the outset. Unfortunately, it is easy to experience the pangs of fear, especially in an environment of low trust.

The antidote is to teach individuals and teams to re-train their brains so that they drive out any thought of failure. Set the goal high, and then use all the power of mind over matter to make that goal a reality.

That sounds so simple, but it is very difficult to gain the skills required to believe rather than doubt.

Experts like the ones above, have taught us that if we reiterate an affirmative statement that we not only intend to meet the goal but to exceed the goal, then repeat that phrase in earnest at least twice a day for 30 consecutive days, we will actually bring forth a vital energy that was unavailable prior to the new mindset.

It is not the rote repeating of an affirmation that makes the difference. The method gives us a chance to catch the difference between the positive attitude and any negative thoughts or feelings that arise. We then have a moment of truth where we have the opportunity to examine what is holding us back.

As we address these self-limiting beliefs, we can come into mental and emotional alignment and resonance with the affirmation. We become energetically congruent with the vision, and that brings forth powers that are truly amazing.

Having this resonance and congruity changes everything. Of course, a positive mental attitude is not the only factor that will allow us to meet difficult goals.

We have to have a good plan, we have to execute well, we have to have high trust and great teamwork, we have to work incredibly hard, we must employ lean and six sigma principles, we need the right technology and resources, and, yes, we sometimes need some luck.

The truth is that by having the right frame of mind at the outset, we enable the other necessary elements to materialize in the physical world. When we expect and believe we will achieve the goal, sometimes the elements required to accomplish it materialize as if by magic. It is not magic; it is simply how the universe works.

I am not reporting anything new here, but I believe it needs to be reiterated, especially when goals for the next increment of time are being set. This is the time to create a new mindset that will allow you and your team to consistently reach or exceed seemingly impossible goals.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow Inc.


Strategic Fossils

June 10, 2012

In current courses on “Competitive Advantage” in business schools, many of the texts used are more than a decade old. For example the “Father” of competitive theory is Michael Porter, who was a professor at Harvard University back in the 1980s. His book, Competitive Advantage came out in 1985. It is from that work that most of the theories students study today were derived. I have a copy of his original book in my library, and I even read quite a bit of it before falling asleep.

One thing that struck me in going through the MBA reading list was that the world changes so quickly that in just a few years theories can become obsolete. The world of today is a vastly different place than the early 2000s when many business texts were written. Many of the companies analyzed in the examples are now extinct – the result of failed strategic choices or mergers.

For example, The Strategy Process by Mintzberg came out in 2003. It gives examples of personal computer makers as AT&T, IBM, Apple, and Compaq. In intervening years, as the market changed, as technology changed, as the decisions got more complicated, only the strong survived.

AT&T has gotten out of the computer business completely, choosing to focus on the growing cellular market.

Apple has made a name for itself selling iPads, and iPhones, changing the landscape of computing. Their mobile media device sales dwarf their computer sales.

While you can still buy something called a “Think Pad” which looks like an IBM product, it is made and sold by a company called Lenovo. How many of us heard of Lenovo ten years ago? Although IBM still sells refurbished computers, their main products are networking and information management now: servers, cloud computing, network security, and custom client solutions.

Compaq was bought out by HP and still limps along – at least for the moment – but it is far from the powerhouse it used to be. Each company coped with change in its own way and came up with vastly different strategies and results.

Today the world is far more fluid and “flat,” meaning that many of the strategies that proved successful in the early 2000s would now fail. So, the number one rule of strategic thinking is to be current. That means getting out in the world to understand how it really operates today.

Far too many strategic planners become fossilized by parochial thinking and models that have existed in ancient history – like anything more than 2 years old is good for historical purposes but not for generating brilliant winning strategies today. You cannot survive simply by studying the theories of the past. You must be thinking ahead of the power curve so you at least have an accurate view of the environment in which you are trying to survive.

So, what is the benefit of reading books that outline great details about models for strategic planning? The benefit is that the process of strategic thinking and the mental steps you take are fixed and really do apply even in vastly different environments.

Let me illustrate with an example. There is a concept called “Segmentation Strategy.” This is where an organization slices and dices the market into chunks that can be addressed with slightly different tactics depending on the characteristics of each chunk. This segmentation idea could be applied whether you were making and selling wood stoves in 1900 or some kind of personal vapor heating body envelope concept in the year 2040. Even though the world is vastly different over time, the fundamental thinking process in trying to laser-focus marketing efforts on the precise segment you are trying to reach is a good one.

As you read and think about the various strategic tools, try to not get caught up on the specific examples the authors use, because the logic in examples is illustrative of the time when they occurred. Rather, think about the overarching principles involved in the techniques. These will not change much regardless of the current world and technological conditions.

The artistic part of strategic thinking is that you get the chance to paint a new picture every day. The canvas is there for you, and you can select not only the brush and colors to use, but also the subject you wish to paint. The only stipulation is that you need to produce a viable idea out of your effort. It reminds me of the story of the coal miner. Someone asked him if he got bored down in the mine. He said, “Bored? No way! I enjoy being down in the mine. I like the lack of restrictions. I have absolute freedom to do anything I want down in the mine, provided I get hold of two tons of coal every day.”