How to enjoy setting goals (sort of)

You know the drill: it’s the beginning of a new fiscal year and your job requires you to complete the annual goal setting process. This exercise usually ranges from mildly irritating to infuriating. What’s most annoying is also true: the goals we set today will be almost irrelevant to how we’ll be evaluated a year from now.

Your job will evolve or the work will change or you’ll switch teams or there will be yet another re-org. And while goals are supposed to incite us to behave in a way that drives certain outcomes, they rarely motivate us to any inspired behavior.

Everyone knows this. So why do we do it? The glib reply is that it’s a game.

But goal setting is also a ritual.

Ritual is a weird word to use about work and company goal-setting. But bear with me. If setting annual goals is a ritual, then this process takes on all sorts of new dimensions and meaning.

Why? Because rituals represent an ideal. And that ideal is not how thing are, but how we want them to be – how we wish they could be. A year of company growth, personal growth, momentum, accountability, results, hard metrics, soft metrics, innovation, collaboration, transformation, structured management conversations, recognition….

Oh, and also what feels like complete upheaval.

Is there any wonder the process falls short?

Can there be any doubt left that work, like life, isn’t logical or predictable? And it’s not always fair. Clever people are rewarded without crushing their goals. Innovators are sidelined. And mediocrity can seem to prevail along the bell curve. But as much as the goals might feel like a wasted exercise, the alternative would be even more pointless.

So once a year, we try to plan for something better.

Knowing that, why spend countless hours aligning, issuing caveats, complaining, and trying to convince leaders that the process or metrics don’t reflect your work? That’s time and energy you will never get back. Plus, it never results in a satisfying outcome.

So it might be a stretch to enjoy setting goals. But why not decide to be vaguely irritated with the ritual – and then spend 30 minutes completing this year’s goals (whether reasonable or unreasonable ) while enjoying a cup of coffee?

It’s not like you don’t know how to do this. So write whatever killer SMART goals your boss’ boss will love and go have lunch.

You have big things to do this year.

carolyn solares
I work with people to navigate irritating and tricky stuff at work.
(My brother calls me a workshrink).
Work with me at murphymerton.
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Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash.