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When goal-setting goes bad

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Dick Cross
Dick Cross - (Photo / )

Lots of people miss their goals. I've been one of them -- often.

But we keep playing the game, with the “setters” attempting to put our targets just beyond what we’d accomplish on our own and the “accepters” walking away with a resigned shrug.

Goals are supposed to motivate, but in many instances they achieve just the opposite, even when the exercise allows setting one’s own yardstick and then negotiating. For many, there’s still something contrived in the whole process.

The fact is that many people just don’t operate that way. And those who do just don’t get it that everybody else doesn’t.

Goal setting is a linear process premised on the idea that a person can maintain focus over the goal horizon and that it will still make sense at the end. It appeals the engineering mentality.

But it’s an anathema to creative types, those people whose walk through life isn’t a series of straight lines, those who wander and see patterns along the way that others often miss.

The point is that both kinds of people are important in your business. And goal-setting works with only one. The methods for inspiring and motivating the creative types are different -- and aren’t necessarily “spread sheet-able” in the way that goal structures usually suggest.

Triangulating cues from Mike Toth, name-leader of one of the fashion world’s top branding firms and from others like him on the creative side, motivating creatives takes three kinds of actions from the person at the top.

The first is taking the time to help people see the big picture: what’s most important to the business over the long run and why. Not the financials, but rather “the soul” of the business.

The second is modeling the behavior you seek. Most creative people are visual rather than auditory or number oriented. The best way to motivate them to do what you want is to show it to them.

The third is to listen. Here you might consider one of my old tricks: lunch with the CEO. Invite people to group lunches where you update your big-picture thinking and ask for help in improving the images and for ideas about moving forward. Encourage people to send you their further thoughts, and make time to talk with them about them.

Sure, our investors, bankers, accountants and half our staffs need goals. But another half of your organization is at best annoyed by the process.

Recognize the differences. And use the right tools for the right job. You’ll never sculpt a statue with a table saw.

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Dick Cross

Dick Cross

Dick Cross is a serial CEO; a professional keynote speaker; a best-selling author; founder of The Cross Partnership Ltd.; and a founding member of Alston Capital Partners. Email him at Follow him on Twitter, @DickCross3.

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