Goals : the biggest limit on business

It really looks like we need goals. It looks like we need to get to that outcome, and that creating a plan and sticking to it is essential to get there. Or maybe not…

It sounds so impressive doesn’t it. What are the big goals you’re working towards? What stretch goals do we need to take this to the next level? What’s your goal in life?

Sounds so strong and definite and clear and powerful like that’s what we all need, to be grown up and sorted in life.

Goals are not ‘wrong’ but our relationship with them is worth an exploration.

You’ve probably had it — the fear that grips your chest when the pressure’s on, the goal looks impossible, the boss or investor or shareholders are expecting you to deliver. Your whole life — career, friends, family, house, car— they all look tied up in that number being achieved. It’s become so big that you can’t see past it.

In the grip of thinking like that of course that goal looks real and solid, how could it not. Huge, solid, scary, threatening, limiting. A huge mountain of a goal.


Image by David Mark from Pixabay

But take a step back for a moment, shrink the mountain just a tiny bit. Start to see what it’s made of, see how it grew. Because the same thinking that created the goal mountain isn’t the thinking that will shrink it.

What it’s made of…

More sales, less costs : sought from an insecure need and false belief that ‘we must grow financially to win / stay alive. Without this we become obsolete / losers / not valuable / die’, and these are believed to be disastrous outcomes.

Budgets : our best guess of what might happen this year, based on previous years — which may or may not be replicated — and an imagined future that we’d prefer to happen but can only imagine.

Goal : a number decided by someone somewhere to keep someone else happy or with the intention of making themselves look / feel good or impressive or bold. Maybe with key accounts or customer groups attached to it — crossed-fingers-customers who might help us get to the number but might not. And a timescale, made up, for when we want (but pretend we must) achieve the number. Or else…[this bit is never defined, it stays shrouded in mystery and implicit threat, all created within our own minds.]

Plan : we turn thought-created goals and budgets into thought-created plans of how we imagine and hope the numbers will be turned into reality. Making everything seem increasingly real and solid but still just thoughts and imaginings. The further out the plans look, the further disconnected from reality they get.

So this strong, definite, impressive thing we call a goal is like the Wizard of Oz. Pull the curtain back and there’s nothing there but wishes and prayers and hopes and imaginings.

And this is what we’re attaching our wellbeing to, our value as a human being to, our futures to???

The story is strong. Its been written into our culture for decades and has only become stronger as society has become more separate, more money-as-status-and-power orientated and more individual-focused.

The story tells us that having and achieving a big goal is the thing that means you matter. That once you get there you’ll have made it. You’ll have the money and the kudos and the relief and the freedom. But this piece brilliantly highlights how this whole game, seen from the level of thinking that created it, just ties us up in even more thought-created-undergrowth as the messages of achieving it are as fear-inducing to our identity as the apparent challenge of getting to it.

And even if we get there, person after person has shown that the happiness and peace of mind we seek isn’t to be found there.

So what do we do instead?

In a coaching programme I’m in with Michael Neill just now, he shared the Buddhism-derived stages of the journey we can go on —

…from the conditioned mind —where all of the above concepts and ideas remain unquestioned and are taken as 100% truths

…to the unconditioned mind — where we see the fallacy of all of the above

…to then emerge on the other side with a radiant mind — one that can see what the concepts of goals and budgets are made of and where we are still able to play and work with them. But now, in knowing what they really are, and who we really are, we drop out of our busy minds and into the freedom, creativity, possibilities, connections, growth, clarity… all that we already are if not for believing that goals and budgets and plans are more than thought-created ideas. All these innate attributes available when we see that these concepts say nothing about who we really are.

From a Radiant Mind the story of ‘hit these numbers or else’ is seen for what it is and instead becomes a journey of open exploration, collaboration, obvious decisions taken, lighthearted creation. Mountains have shrunk so small they fit in our pocket, here already.

And so small that if they need to be re-moulded through the year, they are; if they need to be thrown in a different direction, they will be; if other people are needed to help shape them, they will be here for us. We are limitlessly creative and resilient when we’re not stuck in our heads, in fear.

Knowing that they say nothing about us creates all the freedom we need to smash them. Or not. Either way there will be something happening this year, and other stuff happening next year.

You might have just read that last bit and felt a surge of resistance. That this sounds ridiculous and blase to just say ‘stuff will be happening’!! Irresponsible. Business is serious, we take responsibility for ‘driving things forward’.

But what if all that’s ever happening is ‘stuff’ and that in fact the more we believe we can push and drive and control and impose to achieve the goals, the less likely we’re going to go in the direction we want. The faster the goals go straight back to being mountains again.

Take a good look at what’s happening now — by setting definite and restricting budgets and goals and then putting pressure on to ‘deliver or else’ are you smashing them? Are your teams enthused and full of energy to get there? Are the goals so obvious and believed by you and your team in your hearts that obstacles are turning into minor hiccups?

And how much of senior leadership time is spent pouring over these things to supposedly come up with these nailed-to-the-mast-goals and budgets? If you knew they were thought-clouds would you try to nail them to the mast? Or would you spot some clouds you like the look of, put some good-enough numbers around them, and then put your energy into staying present with the clouds as they change shape and blow in and out of your business’s reality?

Goals can be great — as long as we know what they are, and what we are, and that they are a useful tool in service of alignment and clarity of direction, and that’s it. Nothing more.

So how’s the strength and impressiveness of goals looking now?

Is there a lighter way to work alongside them instead of being caught-up in believing they hold your life in their hands?

Is it worth looking at things another way?

HT to Garry Turner and my clients for the thought-provocation to enable this piece.

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