Don’t let Goals dilute your Purpose

There are many words used to describe the things we do and the reasons we do them.  Objectives, targets, vision, dreams, goals, purpose, KPIs (ugh!), and I’m sure you can think of more.

Let me simplify this down to just two on this list.  Purpose and Goals.  Goals can play an important role in ensuring we stay focused. They provide us with milestones on a longer journey. They help us maintain momentum during periods when we might otherwise be distracted or lose some sight of our purpose. Goals on their own, without a bigger purpose, however, can cause us to drift aimlessly. It is important to periodically ask yourself the question “What purpose does achieving this goal serve?”

Too many leaders, managers, and teams of people in our corporations, find themselves participating in the annual game of concocting targets, objectives and goals, which then dominate meeting agendas, reviews and reports, often taking on a life of their own, and a level of importance that detracts from what ought be the real ‘purpose’ of the business.

Let me use an example from Tennis, as described by Tim Gallwey in his book The Inner Game of Work, which captures the issue well.  One coach described the ‘goal of tennis’ as simple – “Just win the last point”.  But, as Gallwey correctly points out, this is not a sensible goal. If this was the only point in playing tennis, you would simply seek out opponents who were of lower ability, guaranteeing you success every time.  Instead, people who want to enjoy tennis, and improve their game at the same time, choose opponents who are roughly equal to them, and often better. This is clearly not a great approach to take if all you ever wanted to do was to win, but it will help you learn, improve and, as a result, have more fun and, ultimately, a greater sense of achievement.

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Basically, the purpose of playing tennis, and the goal of the actual game (and of each individual point) are two different things. Of course, the competitive player seeks to win each point if they can (their goal), but that is not their purpose, which is much more to do with learning and enjoying the challenge.

The same principle applies to our working lives. Leaders who get caught up in the business of goal setting, target tracking and ‘winning points’, without constantly reminding everyone of the purpose, and how what is being achieved serves that purpose, risk losing sight of it altogether.

Having purpose provides meaning, and people whose work has meaning are likely to be more engaged and productive.  Don’t be fooled by achieving goals – unless those goals are firmly linked to and serving your ultimate purpose.

To learn more about how you or your teams can get clearer on purpose and enhance effectiveness and productivity please do get in touch. Simply submit your contact details  on the Contact Us page and I will be delighted to contact you for an initial chat. 


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