In our previous posts on goal-setting, we’ve challenged conventional wisdom and been generally sceptical about the benefits of goals and the evidence in their favour. By ‘goals’ we don’t mean the checkpoints that tend to occur naturally along the way to doing virtually anything, but rather the ‘aiming points’ we set – or more often than not, are set for us – as incentives.
All goals fall to us as individuals – even corporate ones are meant to ‘cascade’ – but as best-selling author Dan Pink (among others) observed, human motivation is really far too complex to be driven effectively by mere carrots and sticks. In this, our third and final (for the time being) look at goals, we consider a few more subtle approaches based primarily on understanding how motivation really works.
Perhaps the first thing to recognise with traditional methods of motivation is that despite its poor record as a reliable driver of behaviour, guilt often forms the active ingredient of carrot and stick approaches, most notably where ‘carrot’ equates essentially to ‘not stick’.
In fact, our response to any long-term task is largely shaped by how distantly we view the finish line and how optimistic we are of reaching it. Take, for example, the ambition many of us have of writing a book. People who actually go on to become authors are not necessarily those with the best writing skills, nor even the greatest desire, but those best equipped to overcome Doubt and Delay – the twin enemies of progress.
Instead of focusing on the mountain, they have the ability to fast-forward and just know that they’ll get to the summit.
Self-awareness is another useful tool to have in the box. As individuals, we have varying abilities to apply ourselves: where some people seem blessed with prodigious powers of concentration, still others soon tire. The key is for us to accept our realities. Rather than beat ourselves up about them, far better to acknowledge our limitations and look for ways to work constructively around or through them.
Then again, it may be simply a matter of organisation. People often become less productive the more they have to do, due in no small part to their growing uncertainty about what they should do next. Salespeople can be particularly prone: should I make that call, send that email, respond to that RFI ..? There may be no right answer so even as they’re doing one thing, they worry they should be doing something else. It drags down productivity.
Ultimately, getting things done is less about giving ourselves superficial hoops to jump through – no matter how SMART – and far more about understanding the task at hand and the resources at our disposal. Certainly, when all else is said and done these are two aspects of management that, at Thesis, we never forget or neglect.