Whoa, whoa, whoa. We all know that we are supposed to set goals, right? Especially at this time of year with New Year’s Eve quickly approaching. Specific goals, resolutions, and plans will make us rich, happy, and productive. Right. But Peter Bregman makes an audacious suggestion in a recent Harvard Business Review article. Bregman hints that goal-setting can actually narrow our focus and dull our creativity. Making specific manageable goals, according to him, can actually hold us back.
Rather than pushing goals, try the management development strategy of encouraging a broader area of focused interest. Specific goals could be too restrictive and may enable sloppy work or unnecessary risks in order to reach a specific outcome. A focus, on the other hand, can give some guidance while still being open ended. A focus can allow for movement and growth in unexpected directions.
But what about professionalism in the workplace? What about professional development? How can we do what we need to do without goals? Bregman has a management development solution: “The key is to resist the temptation to identify the outcome you want to achieve. Leave that open and allow yourself to be pleasantly surprised.”
By being more in the present moment of the process, you and your employees may find that you actually decrease stress and increase enjoyment by allowing yourselves a little more flexibility to figure things out as you go along. In fact, professionalism in the workplace may actually increase without the need to stick like glue to artificial performance goals.
So what does this idea of swapping a focus for a goal look like in practice in your next management development meeting? Give each team an idea of what you would like them to focus on more broadly. Sales? Marketing? Client base? Whatever it is, set your people loose to brainstorm widely about their focus without the constraint of specific goals. Have them think about possible paths to take rather than definite outcomes to reach.
Ultimately, Bregman explains that, “An area of focus taps into your intrinsic motivation, offers no stimulus or incentive to cheat or take unnecessary risks, leaves every positive possibility and opportunity open, and encourages collaboration while reducing corrosive competition. All while moving forward on the things you and your organization value most.”