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Do You Suffer From This Hidden Problem with Your Goal Achievement?


Whether in the workplace or in life, forward movement is dependent upon achieving, or accomplishing goals. Otherwise drifting occurs. Without the destination in mind the organization and people expend their energies in inefficient and ineffective actions and inaction. Busyness takes over. Results are minimal at best. Psychological tensions arise. Communication suffers. Motivation gets depleted. But what happens when goals are clear, and yet, similar sufferings show up? There is a deeply hidden reason why well stated goals are still missed.

Let’s assume you have SMART goals set. SMART means that the outcomes or results are clearly specifically stated, measured, achievable, relevant, and time bound. Barring outside interferences like a chaotic boss, goals that are unilaterally dictated and not agreed upon, lack of resources, etc. there is a hidden factor that most people do not take into consideration. Understanding this hidden factor can greatly increase the probability that the goal will be accomplished.

Hyrum Smith noted in his best seller, The 10 Laws of Successful Time and Life Management, “A goal is a planned conflict with the status quo.”

“Planned” is the written part of the goal. But conflict? Who wants that? The status quo is easy. The status quo is our comfort zone, even when it’s not so comfortable it is safer than stepping out into the new ways of thinking and behaving that meaningful goal achievement requires.

This is the hidden problem with goals. We don’t like conflict. We like our comforts. Our comfort zone is safe. It’s what we know. Moving towards the goal sets into motion deep and hidden emotions, especially fear. Fear can be debilitating, freezing us into not taking the actions we need to take to achieve the goal. Our energy gets stuck, motivation gets depleted. Fear is what holds us back. We play it safe. We shrink from becoming the performers that we can be.

I recently had a client who came to me seeking to transform her career away from her current employer because she was “suffocating” in the culture where she was working, especially when it came to dealing with her two bosses. She complained about missing her target goals over the last few years. She is hard working and does high quality work for her clients. She was initially recruited because of the stellar track record she previously created. As we worked together, she regained her sense of self and made her quota for the new year within the first quarter. However, her feelings about her two bosses remained the same and was passed over for a new position. She felt invisible inside her organization. One her goals was creating authentic relationships at work.

We explored what made the difference in her transformation of generating new business. Besides the technical aspects, she listed confidence, being of service, knowledgeable, focused, articulate, etc. I challenged her to have a conversation with her main boss holding that same vision of who she is. She flat out rejected it. Although assertive with external clients, she feared demonstrating those same qualities to her boss. Why? The thought of speaking directly, confidently, assertively with a person of power over her sent her back into her fear shell. The challenge was too big in that context. We decided to break down into smaller steps the actions that eventually enabled her to have the ultimate conversation about her career and how to more effectively work with her boss ultimately gaining his respect.

The story has two related points. First, whether you are a manager, executive, or individual contributor, SMART goals are essential, but they need to be explored collaboratively to uncover the natural but hidden fears that they bring. Second, big audacious goals (as Jim Collins says) need to be broken down into easier incremental steps making the path to success grow incrementally as the comfort zone also grows.


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"A goal is a planned conflict with the status quo."  - Alex McKenzie  No wonder so many people avoid them!

"Stay focused, go after your dreams and keep moving toward your goals." - L.L. Cool J Keeps you from fear.

"People with goals succeed because they know where they are going?"  - Earl Nightingale Do you know where you are going?

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Ed Caldwell
Productive Learning Systems, Inc