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Effective goal setting: 4 common mistakes to avoid when setting goals

Effective goal setting: 4 common mistakes to avoid when setting goals

Now is the ideal time for leaders to sit down to think about what they want their business to look like in a year’s time. Effective goal setting is not as simple as writing down large-scale objectives and hoping you achieve them.

Many people consequently make mistakes in this process, forgetting that goal setting is actually the first step in the process, to achieving desired goals. With this in mind, here are some of the most common mistakes that are easy to avoid with the right guidance:

  1. Don’t forget your personal goals for effective goal setting

The goals you have for your business aren’t the only directives that should shape the months ahead. All too often, senior executives make a plan for the new year that doesn’t account for their own personal goals.

Most leaders spend the majority of their time working tirelessly on the company, to ensure it achieves greater value for shareholders or competes better in its particular market. It’s easy to neglect your personal investment in these goals, the impact on your life as well as that of the company. Answering the question of why, will help you to find a balance.

  1. Misunderstanding your needs

Most of you will be familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, but how many of you are confident applying it to your everyday lives? As a leader, you need to be aware of how your position dictates your needs and shape your goals accordingly.

It’s almost a given that some of the lower levels of the pyramid such as physiological and safety needs will be taken care of, which means you can focus on more of the self-fulfilment needs that sit closer to the top. Achieving your potential through self-actualisation can really help you understand why you do what you do, and how you need to shape goals accordingly.

  1. These are not just your goals

Take the time to talk through your goals. Whether it’s your spouse, your children or other family members, talk through your ideas for the future. As these people may be just as affected by your decisions as you and have an invested interest.

For your personal goals, it can be as simple as regular date nights for you and your partner, or as grand as meeting savings goals and travelling more. The point is that it builds on that personal element mentioned above, and helps to build that why that links your objectives with that of the business.

For your business goals, you may want to find a mentor or business advisor to talk through your goals.

  1. Forgetting to be accountable

The other positive that stems from bringing family into the goal-setting process is that they can help you stay accountable. It’s not just you ticking off a list by yourself, it’s important people in your life asking ‘how are we going with our goals?’. This is especially important with regards to personal goals, as these people add just a bit of extra motivation and ensure your progress is being tracked.

It’s not just family that can keep you on your toes either. Sharing personal goals with a peer group or mentor, means you have yet another audience that isn’t afraid to ask you tough questions about your achievements as the year progresses. Maybe the friendly pressure of a surprise interrogation every now and again will result in the motivation you need to keep on track with your goals.

Overall it easier to set up goals that are achievable and to follow through on your promises by creating personal connections and genuine measures of accountability as the first step.

Ian NealBy: TEC Chair, CEO mentor and coach Ian Neal

Supercharge your goal setting with these tips, apps and hacks

Find the right tools to help you stay accountable and achieve your goals

You can now boost your business and personal life by matching goal setting guidelines with the best online productivity tools and apps. By selecting the most effective goal setting tips along with collaborative apps you can keep track of your progress. In fact, it is an excellent way to keep momentum in your business and personal life. This could make you and your business unstoppable.

To ensure your goal setting for your business actually creates results, you need to track progress towards achievements as you go, rather than simply writing them down and stepping away.

Whether it’s self-directed or assisted by others, it’s essential you have processes in place that help you to remain accountable. Seeing your progress is an essential source of motivation, and means there are consequences if you’re not doing the right things to achieve your goals.

  1. Get organised

The first step to ensure you’re able to remain accountable is to be organised. This means being well aware of what you want to achieve, and creating a method to list and track your progress towards the eventual goal.

Investigate the many solutions that can make quantifying goals easier. There are many popular productivity apps, and the people I mentor often use Trello which tracks all the various projects they have on at any point in time. You can monitor tasks and set target dates for completion to ensure you are making progress.

Project management apps like Trello are not limited to a professional context either, one of the people I mentor added projects he wants to complete around the house. Essentially, it’s a tool for time management that can help you focus on both personal and professional goals.

On a side note, Trello has recently been acquired by Atlassian, you can read more about here.

  1. Find someone to hold you accountable

Depending on the type of goal you are focusing on, there are a number of people who can hold you to account and request regular updates. A board of directors will have one set of expectations to meet, which may differ from those of your financial controller who has a more operational focus.

In some cases, however, you may need someone more impartial like a business coach who is aware of what you are trying to achieve but doesn’t have the same emotional attachment to your business. They can hold you to account in a non-judgmental way while still ensuring you’re being pushed in the right direction and tackling that “too hard basket”.

Alternatively, get your family involved. This is a way to have a positive balance of personal and professional goals, while focusing on objectives that will add to your relationships. Again, they offer a valuable perspective on your goals that’s separate from people based within the business.

  1. Review your goals to ensure they’re achievable

Create goals that you can confidently work towards. Frequently, your first attempts at listing goals are closer to a draft than a working guide. Often these goals are about 90 per cent complete, so it’s important to come back and refine them after a bit of reflection.

Be sure to understand yourself first, determining what drives you. Think about the things that you intended to do last year, but didn’t. Are those things still important? Then determine what you want for this year. Draw up your goals and prepare an action plan. Then review these regularly.

Some of the questions that can help to refine the goals in the early stages are:

  • What is the big picture?
    • Clarifying your big picture becomes your theme
  • What are the best opportunities to pursue?
    • Opportunities give you the milestones you want to meet
  • Are these goals achievable?
    • Achievable goals become your targets
  • What steps do I need to take to achieve what I want?
    • Each step can become your mini projects
  • How do I track the progress of these goals?
    • These become actions you can carry out
  • Can others help me to achieve and check in on how I am going?
    • This helps to clarify who is your support, and if you need a mentor.

All of these questions can distil your goals into a plan that’s easy to account for as the months pass.

  1. Find motivation

A bit of extra pressure is good for keeping you on track. That’s part of the reason why it’s so important to enlist other people who are invested in your progress. I found there’s a way to encourage motivation with an app called Crew Mojo, which empowers individuals and teams to get stuff done with a culture of commitment and real-time feedback.

Knowing other people are keeping an eye on your promised deadlines helps you take the process a bit more seriously while also creating a channel whereby you can update invested parties ahead of time if you think a certain timeframe is going to be particularly tough to meet.

Using traditional goal setting along with apps to keep track of your progress is an excellent way to keep momentum in your business and personal life. With the right balance, you can stay accountable and achieve your objectives for the coming year.

Graham JenkinsBy: TEC Chair, CEO mentor and coach Graham Jenkins

Should accountability be at the heart of your coaching and mentoring processes

Should accountability be at the heart of your coaching and mentoring processes?


American mythologist Joseph Campbell’s studies into human myths and legends led him to identify a common pattern in global narratives relating to mentorship. In his book ‘The Hero’s Journey’, he explained that there is always a mentor in every great story, regardless of the culture or time.

The mentor, through their experience and expertise, would offer something the hero needs. Whether it’s an object of significance, insight into a dilemma, wisdom, or self confidence, whatever was given to the hero served to dispel doubts and give strength to overcome their challenges.

While mentoring continues to increase in popularity, especially as our working population continue to age, the role of a coach is equally important. One of the key questions that circulates among business leaders is: Can someone embody the roles of mentor and coach simultaneously? While many in the business world believe this to be contradictory, they could not be further from the truth. The key is accountability.

The power of mentors and pragmatism of coaching

In the commercial world, the term mentor is typically associated with entrepreneurs – think angel investors. But mentoring can be applied successfully to a range of other business pursuits.

However, mentorship is not a silver bullet and it demands time and effort to get right. Mentorees must put the time into understanding what they want, where their limitations lie and how they can overcome them. Yet, this can become lost in translation due to the romanticism that comes with mentoring.

On the other hand, coaching involves a more pragmatic approach than that of mentoring. It focuses on performance and the successful fulfilment of goals that people want to achieve in their business world.

Speaking to Inc, former marine and current business coach Chad Cooper used sports as a metaphor to outline how a coach should operate.

‘A great coach looks at the overall game of your life and helps you make decisions and take action,’ he said. ‘Your coach sees things you don’t because you’re on the field and playing in the game. The coach is not in your game, but rather on the sidelines pointing out your strengths and strategies you’ve used to win.’

The more a business leader is on the field making things happen, the less time they have to evaluate the effectiveness of their actions.

As the saying goes, a coach has some great questions to your answers, while a mentor has some great answers for your questions.

Finding a blended approach

For commercial leaders and executives, a balance is required between the task-based approach of a coach and the holistic perspective of a mentor. The piece that always gets left out is accountability.

Internal and external mentoring and coaching processes should be built around this idea.

Here at The Executive Connection, both confidential group meetings and one-to-one meetings offer participants engagement with the best of both these worlds. You gain valuable insights on the challenges you face from your peers, as well as closer engagement with an experienced mentor, who will help you find the answers for yourself.

Essential to both is the idea that TEC members will not only receive pragmatic and theoretical advice, but also come back to their peers and mentors with the results. The entire system has task-related processes as well as holistic approaches to a CEOs life.

Participants hold each other accountable for the actions they take and the results they achieve. Failures as well as successes loop back into the meetings and group sessions, creating new forms of feedback aimed at generating new questions and solutions

While many people get caught up in the mentor vs coach debate, a balanced approach that blends the two tends to deliver the best results. With accountability at heart, the one-to-one and group-based processes can ensure people get the best of both worlds.

Richard ApplebyBy: TEC Chair, CEO mentor and coach Richard Appleby

How to beat the odds and succeed with your plan…What’s Expected Gets Inspected

Almost half of all strategic initiatives fail due to poor execution – Economist Intelligence Unit 2013

The cost to businesses for such a high failure rate is enormous and at times fatal.

I believe ‘leadership’ is a problem. In Peter Drucker’s seminal work Management, he said that management consisted of 4 elements – Planning, Organising, Control and Leadership. ‘Leadership’ is not an end unto itself.

For almost twenty years we have been focused on turning out leaders at the expense of managers. Everyone wants leadership training; few ask for management training. Today there are leadership teams aplenty which, by dint of their title, are not focused enough on the management of the plan. In the words of Stephen Covey

‘Effective leadership is putting first things first…Effective management is discipline, carrying it out.’

Leaders must develop the skills to manage execution.

Business strategies fail not because they are inadequate but because they are poorly implemented. Why is this? There are many, varied and complex reasons but I will focus on one and touch on a couple of others which will get any team off to an excellent start.

The first hurdle is the team. It does not matter how clever your strategy is if your team does not understand it, buy into it or does not have the ability and resources to execute it, the plan will have next to no chance of succeeding. A good team can win with a mediocre strategy. Hire the best you can and motivate them to execute the plan.

Next is agility. The team must move with speed and flexibility. According to Harvard Business Review 2015, ‘a lack of agility is a major obstacle to effective execution among the companies we have studied’. As circumstances and market environments change the plan needs to be constantly checked for validity. A question I like to ask is ‘what have you learned in the last 30 days that effects the future of your company?’ No one can tell the future. Blind adherence to the plan is just as dangerous as being cavalier about it.

And last, but not the least, having little or no accountability. Are your people living up to their commitments and producing the results anticipated in the plan? This goes to the core of effective execution. What’s expected gets inspected and people will be motivated to follow through on their commitments. A lack of inspection is one of the major reasons plans fail or drift along without any sense of urgency. The Macquarie Dictionary defines commitment as ‘the extent to which we will inconvenience ourselves to accomplish something’. This tends to be a consequence of motivation.

Follow-up is the most potent tool at a manager’s (and leader’s) disposal. This is how people are held accountable. Some of the reasons follow-up does not happen include: indifference, laziness, ignorance (don’t know how to do it) and stupidity. Yes, if you know how to but you don’t, then it is stupidity.

The psychology of the follow-up process clarifies why it is such a sensible thing to do if we wish to achieve results. Firstly, follow-up is not a performance review. Rather it is a meaningful dialogue that presents an opportunity for praise and or joint problem solving. This engenders trust between manager and team member. The process is meaningful, critical, natural, intentional, perpetual, flexible and substantial. Without it, the message you send is ‘results don’t really matter’.

In Jim Collins book Great by Choice, he discussed the 20 Mile March. Using the example of the race to the South Pole between Scott and Amundsen, he explored their different tactics. Amundsen succeeded and Scott and his team perished. The main difference was that Amundsen adhered to a regimen of consistent progress – not too much, not too little. Amundsen understood that consistency is the best friend of the successful as is the habit of moving forward every day. He focused on achieving daily and weekly goals and eventually the prize was theirs. The lives of Amundsen’s team depended on how well he managed the execution of the plan. He was an outstanding leader and manager.

In his book, Collins detailed the elements of a good 20-mile march:

  • Clear performance markers
  • Self-imposed constraints
  • Appropriate to the enterprise [or individual]
  • Largely within your control
  • A proper time-frame — long enough to manage, yet short enough to have teeth
  • Designed and self-imposed by the enterprise [or individual]
  • Achieved with high consistency

To paraphrase Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign slogan ‘It’s the economy, stupid’ we can say  ‘It’s the execution, stupid’. Execution fails due to poor follow-up. Follow-up is a discipline. The nature of a discipline is that it can be practiced and mastered over time.

Philip KerriganBy Phil Kerrigan, TEC Chair