We are going to take a look at goal setting from an unusual angle – from the angle of elite sports. Dr. Veronica Burke, has made a study of elite sports and how they relate to business and performance goals. Dr. Burke believes that goals are important in both sports and business.
The general psychological research tells us that goal setting does work; of course there are some complexities associated with it, but the general consensus is that long term stretching goals work well as a performance enhancement strategy in business and in sport – much better in fact than do it yourself goals or no goals at all. Therefore goal setting is valuable in this respect. This point was highlighted to a group of Trinidad and Tobago cricket coaches at a motivational session in June 2012.
What do you need to pay attention to?
You can’t just focus on the outcome. There has to be a clear goal and an idea of how the goal is going to be achieved. For example, consider the performance of the England footballers in the World Cup, or the performance of the West Indies Cricket Team, quite a lot of people were disappointed with their performance. And, yes, the results speak for themselves, but the more interesting question is why didn’t they perform well? If we can understand the process of goal setting, we can make the necessary adjustments to make sure that we do attain the long term objectives; and that is what we need to pay attention to in the goal setting process.
What are the disciplines or personal capabilities required to get realistic goals?
Having a clear goal is one thing and having a process for actually meeting that goal is another. But there is a whole set of personal capabilities that are really important for people to have whether you are talking about sport or business. For example, capabilities like self control and self regulation; being able to regulate one’s own thoughts, feelings and ideas about the process that they are going through; to be able to perhaps reward oneself to reinforce one’s behaviour on occasions. But one has to also be resilient; to recognize when there are setbacks, to make adjustments and take the next process forward. A good example from sport would be John Naber, the US backstroker when he didn’t make the 1972 Olympic team. Naber asked himself, could I be an Olympic champion? And the answer was possibly. Four years later at the 1976 Montreal Olympics Naber won four gold medals, each in world record time. The process involved him setting hundreds of short term goals and meeting them over a very long period of time and being personally committed to the goals that have been set. Those are the real parallels between sport and business.
One of the things – certainly in the business context – that we are all aware of is the idea that people set goals and then they never get there; there is maybe some inertia in there, maybe even some resistance, but we end up with them not being met. Why?
This is a really common problem in business, and we do see it in the domain of sport as well. But in many regards it is the managerial task to try and work through the unspoken agendas, to try and get perhaps only temporary agreement to action. And, what we are trying to do here is to use perhaps conflict really well, to actually get that commitment at the personal level. So it is not about micro managing somebody to within an inch of their life to reach a goal; it is about trying to promote a collaborative working environment where people can surpass those difficulties, so we can work through them together to get real commitment to the things we want to do.
What are some lessons that we can apply in a business context, because sports are things we watch, business is what we do. So where is the crossover?
Lesson 1: For business like sport, long term success is paved with lots of small term achievements.
Lesson 2: Train with the competition; that works for sport as well as with business. From the business perspective, this means bringing a set of people together who are really interested in enhancing their performance via high potential programs. Talent identification programs are one such example. Bringing high potentials together for intensive development enables candidates to push themselves to levels they would never reach when working with less accomplished colleagues.
Lesson 3: Finally, it is really important to audit your decision making capability. Keep a monitoring progress by asking the following questions:
- Where am I?
- Am I actually where I am supposed to be?
The answers will help you to make the essential adjustments to the process so that you will achieve the outcome of the set goals.
We could do a lot to improve the process of business goal setting through looking at sports. Goal achievement at the top level is by no means effortless – although some performers make it look easy. On average, it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate (quality) practice to qualify as an “expert” performer. Michael Johnson, holder of 5 Olympic and 9 World Champion medals commented: “Commitment and preparation are all that make the difference among an arena full of perfect physical specimens”