Overcoming the Mediocrity of Doing Your Best
“Do your best,” is an excuse for not doing your best. It’s code for, don’t worry if you don’t make it. Stop telling people to do their best; give them a goal, instead.
Goals motivate because they define desirable results. “Do your best,” is obscure babble. You don’t know what your “best” is. Goals, however, bring out your “best.” Make three sales calls by 5:00 p.m. is better than, “Do your best to make sales calls today.”
10 Ways to make goals work:
- Don’t waste your time setting easily attainable goals. If it’s easy to attain, you don’t need a goal.
- Set goals that are out of reach but attainable. Challenging goals inspire higher performance, unless they go too far.
- Goals without feedback die. Tell people where they are in relation to their goals, frequently.
- Create tools that enable people to assess their progress, self-feedback. Milestones are a good example; reports are another.
- Don’t assign goals; develop them together. The chances of buy in are higher.
- Buy-in fuels achievement. Be sure everyone fully embraces the goal.
- Confidence enables buy-in. People that don’t believe they can achieve don’t buy-in. Instill confidence by expressing confidence.
- Don’t set individual goals when groups are involved; set group goals.
- K.I.S.S. – keep it simple stupid. Complex goals confuse rather than motivate.
- Shout it from the roof-tops. Public goals are more likely to be achieved than secret goals.
The other side:
Developing goals together isn’t always best (#5). Some people respond well to having goals set for them. People who respect you – who seek your approval – may be energized when you assign them challenging goals.
Goals never work if leaders play favorites, actually they frustrate. If they don’t trust you, assigned goals are suggestions, at best.
How do you use goals to focus and energize people?
What do leaders need to do to make goals work?
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The more you know your team the easier it is to set goals,focus and energize them!
So true – ever person is a unique case.
I’m a big believer in goal-setting, and have found that the most effective rewards are natural outcomes of achieving the goal. In other words, if there’s a benefit to the organization, then there’s a natural way to share that benefit. If the company makes a bigger profit, monetary rewards are natural. If the company beats a deadline, time off is natural. If the company just pulls off something hard and staves off disaster, then a celebration like a pizza lunch is natural. You can actually hurt buy-in when your rewards are in conflict with goals, like when you offer a cash bonus for cost-saving efforts. If they don’t make sense to people, your team isn’t as likely to dig in.
By the way, there are a few people who are highly motivated by being told, “Do your best.” It doesn’t take long to figure out who they are – usually they have a strong self-image, and a drive to achieve. They don’t ever want you to think that a mediocre performance is the best they can do. You’re right, though, that for most it sounds like freedom from accountability.
I really like your comment about setting goals together.
One thing that has really hit me in the last several months is the idea of collaborative vision- and goal-setting.
Buy-in is more likely when establishing a vision and its corresponding goals is something that involves the team, as opposed to something the leader does alone, and then tries to “sell” to the team.
I am a teacher who follows your blog because I am interested in leadership qualities and how to best instill these in my students. There are very few students who truly “get” the idea of “doing their best.” Grades are generally and traditionally the motivating goal to get students to perform at their optimum. Sadly, grades become the be-all and end-all of their academic experience. Creative teachers will remove the emphasis on grades and instead emphasize individual or group goals for assignments that are separate from grades. By the way, I think you should take some of your past blogs, look at them from an educator’s perspective, and write a book directed to teenagers and/or educators. Same writing style would be great as it is so practical and easy to understand.
I completely agree that so many LF blogs are transferable to education/parenting/teenagers (without very much modification). I’d be a reader!
Would love to hear your insight on how to initiate goal setting when infused into an organization as a “new leader”. What advice would you share with an experienced executive, tasked with transforming performance of a mediocre team in a large corporate structure?
Hi Bill, I’m going to offer a little input that you can take for what it’s worth. I’ve always started by trying to measure the delta between organizational expectations and the understanding of the team (what does your boss think they should be accomplishing vs. what they see their job to be). If there’s a big gap, then you need to work on the perceptions of your team. If there’s little or no gap, your problem is likely motivational, or a lack of buy-in. Or possibly it could be a resourcing issue.
This was an AHA moment for me. I always tell my team to do their best when it comes to meeting our deadlines. After reading this post, I realize that I have been (inadvertently) telling them that it is ok to miss the deadline. Thanks for the action items…
Which one sails the ship?
When any of the 10 points are not met you are on a rocky course, certainly without #s 5 & 6 you have a lack of ownership, investment and collaboration. Those may be the Captain and the Helmsman…again a collaboration.
With #2, out of reach, but still in sight would be a good add-on.
And as always, Dan, I would add #11-Celebrate them when achieved…and not achieved. The mini-milestones attained and if needed, recharting the course a bit. Lesson learned, continuous improvement dependent on the winds of change. Celebrate and recognize what you learned if you missed the mark (as long as you gave it 100%).
Yes Doc, celebrate regardless and learn at every opportunity. Tomorrow is another day to give it as you put it 100% yet one more time. Ah, perseverance and how much and how badly do we really want it? Scottie give me 110%! 🙂
Hmm, who determines if we give 100%…if we are our own worst critics, then we would never say we have and if others’ say we gave 100% how do they know?
(I would still celebrate if we gave 95% and then wonder if we could a little more next time.) Arghh, Ah chan’t gives ya 110% Captain, the warp drives wouldn’t hold togetha..
“Only the mediocre are always at their best”
Points #5 & #7 resonated with me. I was cleaning out my files yesterday and I ran across a folder with goals. I always ask team members to submit their goals to me, so there they were – unaccomplished goals. It gave me food for thought, and then I read your post this morning.
Keeping those 2 points in mind, I think I’ll be able to serve my team better by helping them with their goals and spending more time instilling confidence.
Thank you for posting this at the exact time I needed it.
Hi Dan. Nice post. I had not heard about the K.I.S.S. principle in a while but I am certainly a big proponent of it. I think some of the key concepts you mention are important like recognizing and celebrating when milestones are reached and also when extra effort is given because of the passion felt for the “inspired” goal that has been set and owned by all. I also believe strongly in as Gandhi says to measure success by the effort put forth and not necessarily the wins. So yes an energized and motivated team will work hard to accomplish set goals and will toil with blood, sweat and tears if the leader has provided the ongoing necessary tools to help the team succeed. Invest in your team in and outside of work and you will be amazed at the loyalty and ownership culture you will create. There is no stopping a passionate and inspired team who fully understands and embraces the “why” and figures out persevering relentlessly all the “hows” to accomplish all the “whats” necessary to support the vision. Cheers 🙂
Hey Al, I agree with you in agreeing with Gandhi on the correct measurement of success. Ultimately the only true measure of the success of leadership is what those they lead grow to be..Leadership is always about people. The rest is management.
“Leadership is always about people. the rest is management.” another one for my quote book. Thanks Greg.
Do you prefer to be managed or led? 😉
I find myself saying that repeatedly to my kids “just do your best.” It has been a completely different experience when they have set goals for themselves and achieved them – I agree specificity about what “best” means makes the experience so much more meaningful (and productive) for kids and adults alike.
One of the things we always make sure to ask in any employee goal setting discusion is what can management do to help you achieve these goals. This helps the employee to feel like we are in this toether which can impart some confidence. Additionally it allows them to hold management responsible for not providing the resources for them to achieve the goals when they have specifically identified thoses needs.
These are great tips and ones I used often when I was managing teams. One thing I would add is that goal setting should start with what you want to achieve. Nothing changes behavior more than setting a goal and rewarding its achievement. I saw so much effort go into process when it was so much simpler to just set a goal and pay people for the results. Thanks for a great blog.
Thanks for a great post! When I saw “do your best,” the Cub Scout motto, I thought of ways to apply your essay to Scouting. Indeed, in Cub Scouts, we ask the boys to be honest with themselves in doing their best. This helps them later when they become Boy Scouts at age 11, and have to meet set criteria for advancement. Doing your best is no longer sufficient; the requirements may be difficult for some, but they are attainable, and a boy must meet them as written. This, like so many aspects of the Scouting program, is great training for later in life.
Great post with lots of good insight. Just recently watched a TED video that talks about point #10 (Shout it) which seemed counterintuitive to me at first. Fun to watch and add to the conversation.