Can You See It? – Setting Goals That Get Done #2

Child pulling down grandfather's hat
If you can see it, you can do it

Part Two of  Series that begins with Setting Your Intent (and Deciding What You’re Not Going To Do)

Visualize Your Goal

The part of your brain that makes decisions and drives all human behaviour has no capacity for language. So, if you want to motivate somebody, including yourself, you could literally draw a picture. Tell a story. Use concrete language. Have a tangible outcome.

Use all your senses. Imagine success. See, hear, feel, taste, and touch it, as if it is real to us already. When we know what success looks like, our brains starts filling in what we need to do to get there. Athletes have used mental rehearsal for years, and the performance improvement they get from visualization is almost as great as actually physically practicing.

This is where setting SMART goals get it right, mostly. The “S” in SMART stands for specific. But you can set very specific but intangible goals. Like (and I wish I was making this up, but I hear this all the time when coaching executive teams) “Increase EBITDA by 10%”.

Would everybody in a company be able to get excited about this? Would they even understood what it means? It’s certainly specific enough, but it doesn’t say anything about the why or the how, which are also important.

Here’s a personal example. When I was trying to quit smoking for the 99th time, what finally got me over the motivation barrier was imagining going for a hike in the Rockie Mountains with my grand-children. I don’t have any grandchildren yet, but I a) wanted to be around if and when they do show up, and 2) wanted to be able to carry them, not an oxygen tank. I can see the picture in my head. I can even show you on the map which trails I’d like to take them on first.

So if your have to set a financial goal, perhaps describe what the money you hope to earn will allow you to do, instead of just imagining the money. Maybe don’t get trapped by being specific about the amount of profit (or growth, or weight you’re going to lose). Instead fixate on what the specific outcome will allow you to do.

If you can draw a picture or describe the outcome to somebody else in a concrete way, then you’re there.

Next: Imagine the Milestones


Of Feedback, Sambuca, and the Future

I look forward to Friday nights. Usually I’ll be at the archery range followed by a beer at the local watering hole with my lovely wife and fellow archers. I was especially looking forward to this week since I won an archery tournament last weekend up in Edmonton. Woohoo! I was ready to celebrate.

Alas, I’ve come down with a cold. I’m sitting at home watching an Auction Hunters marathon instead, and trying to kill my infection with Sambuca. It seems to help the sinuses. Maybe not, but by the time I finish writing this I won’t care.

Nothing bad (or good) lasts forever. I know I’ll whine and snivel my way through the weekend, and be back on my feet and ready to rock by Monday morning. Attending the team meeting and doing my client preparation for the week. The ability to look to the future is a good thing. Without it we sometimes tend to wallow in our present miseries, and maybe even get stuck there.

Without knowing or imagining what’s going to happen next we might feel trapped and helpless, or even overwhelmed. Many inspiring things in life are future oriented, and they pull us along into the desired next state.

The Value of Concrete, Visual Language

A concrete and visual future can be  inspiring, but warm and fuzzy future is useless. The brain is a visual (and emotional) machine. That’s why when CEO’s want a collectively motivating vision, mission, or purpose, it’s based on concrete visual language. On of my favourite examples is this quote often mis-attributed to General George S. Patton

“I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other poor, dumb bastard die for his country.”

That’s very concrete language, no?

Recruiters also use visualization. First, if they can see the job they are recruiting for, they have a better chance of filling it with the right person.  Secondly, if they see you performing the job, based on your description of the work you’ve done in the past, then you’ve got a better chance of landing it.

What’s This To Do With Feedback?

Practise doesn’t make perfect, but perfect practise does. Feedback needs to be future oriented. It also needs to be specific and concrete. Pointing out to one of our direct reports that they screwed up / performed brilliantly is not enough.

We have to be specific enough that they know what they’re being criticized / praised. It is necessary but not sufficient to point out the error. They must also rehearse how they are to change their behaviour in the future. Even if this rehearsal is only mental. Otherwise, what you’ll get is the same behaviour next time.

We also have to cast their thinking into the future.  They need to take the responsibility for fixing the problem, changing their behaviour, or doing things differently. This is the purpose of feedback. They need to be able to see themselves doing it differently next time.

Without this last step in the feedback process what will usually happen is that they’ll just do the same thing again. Not out of habit, not out of laziness, not out of stubbornness or thoughtlessness. They just won’t think about it because they haven’t “seen” it done differently.

The Last Question

Assuming we’re giving corrective feedback, the last question in any feedback process needs to be  a variation of:

“What are you going to do differently next time?”*

Questions engage the mind of the person being asked. It allows them to take responsibility for the outcome. Asking the future-oriented question gives them the problem to solve. Instead of waiting for you to hand them the solution.

Which is the point of giving feedback. They change their behaviour. They take responsibility. If you have to do everything for them then what’s the point of having employees? Give them something to do about it, or even mentally rehearse for the future, so they don’t repeat the same mistakes over and over.

So, what are you going to do next?

Other resources:

Manager Tools Podcast

Coaching for Performance: GROWing Human Potential and Purpose – The Principles and Practice of Coaching and Leadership

*If you’re dealing with positive feedback, the question “What are you going to do differently”. A “Keep it up.”, or “Keep doing that.” works better instead.