Growing plant

Goals and objectives can be like an exercise routine or a gym membership. For those of us who are committed regulars, the process can be a bit routine and rote, but at least we are checking in regularly. Then there are those of us who start with the best intentions, set a great plan, but don’t get there enough; the necessities and grind of daily life outweigh our desire to do something as ongoing and long-term as the gym.

Think about your own or your employees’ goals and objectives—do they fall into these traps? In one case, it’s a routinized system where checking in on goals may not necessarily connect with business impact. In the other, it’s a bigger picture idea that fails to take priority over more pressing matters. There’s no denying that goals and objectives are critical to a business, as they set a direction organizationally and provide a path for individuals to make meaningful and useful contributions. According to brain science and research, goals also link to brain process. So, cognitively, there’s something going on when we set goals—our brains are using distinct areas and functions when we set goals.

I want to look at the practical side of goal setting from a brain-based perspective. From a standpoint of knowing that every person approaches their work differently, it stands to reason that goals should be approached in the same way—that is, distinctly and in a way that corresponds to our unique action orientation. I just read an article on Daniel Pink’s blog, titled “Why Progress Matters,” in which he advocates for small goals or progress over big, long-term goals. It makes sense, and according to research done by Harvard Business Professor Teresa Amabile, when they studied businesses, they found that people are motivated most by reaching small goals and making progress.

However, a woman in our office advocates for BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) and pointed to success that her former organization (a large insurance company) had with making stretching, seemingly unreachable goals. This makes sense as well.

My point is that there are a million goal-setting processes out there, and many of them likely have a strong success record; the key is connecting to and living the goals you set individually. And that means linking to a way of setting goals and reaching those goals that makes sense for you!

That’s where the practical side of brain science comes into play. How would a Conceptual, big-picture thinker make BHAGs differently than a Structural, process-driven thinker? How about an Abstract thinker versus a Concrete thinker? What about someone who desires a lot of Flexibility versus a person who works best in more defined situations?

Think about these questions when you think about setting your goals:

  • “What do we need to know?” “What are we missing?”
  • “Is there a checklist or procedure for this?” “What will this do to our schedule?”
  • “Is everyone on board with this goal?” “Will this goal help our team be successful?”
  • “What is the bigger picture?” “Is this limiting us?”

Do certain ones resonate more than others? If so, that’s because they likely link to a dominant thinking style you have. Think about how critical it is for you or your organization to create goals that ring true based on the inherent ways we think and behave.

If we can do this, we can start to make reachable goals that create results. It’s goal setting with impact.

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