The Value of Goals

The fourth quarter is upon us, a time when many companies do their annual planning. This includes the establishment of goals which serve as performance beacons for the upcoming year. I have researched, studied and instructed goal-setting theories and methodology for years. Accordingly, I can say goal setting is among the most misunderstood and misapplied practices in planning today.

People Will Support What They Help to Create

A goal is a deeply personal commitment we make to ourselves. It represents a desired result with a plan to move sequentially toward that achievement. Think of completing one class in pursuit of a degree.

A goal dictated by management (you are expected to sell 100 widgets next year) may or may not reflect a person’s ambition. Rather, the goal may reflect management’s needs which are being imposed upon the recipient. Depending on the corporate culture, the imposition of a goal may create undue stress resulting in frustration and resentment. If we accept that goal setting is a personal matter, then we must accept the involved party should have significant involvement in the process.

Write Them Down

Harvard conducted a study on goals from 1979 – 1989. The 1979 graduates of Harvard’s MBA program were asked, ” Have you set clear, written goals for your future and made plans to accomplish them?”


3% had written goals and plans to achieve them.

13% had goals, but not in writing.

84% had no specific goals for the future.

Ten years later, in 1989, the researchers interviewed the graduates again. They were asked their current level of “success” in terms of money, health and overall happiness in their life.


The 13% who had goals, but not in writing, were earning, on average, twice as much as the 84% who had no goals at all.

More surprisingly, the 3%, who had clear, written goals were earning, on average, TEN TIMES as much as the other 97% COMBINED. They also reported much higher levels of overall happiness, health and contentment with their life.

It is easy to focus on the quantitative results of the study. I prefer to look at the qualitative statements regarding levels of happiness, wealth and contentment. The purpose of setting meaningful goals is to achieve success, which is self-defined and come from within. Chasing a feeling of success through the accumulation of “stuff” such as bank accounts is a slippery slope.

Align Goals with Values

Regrettably, I did not anchor my goals to values. Hence, I became susceptible to greed and a misguided effort to substitute “stuff” for happiness. I regularly meet people who seem outwardly successful. However, they tell me they are in the predicament of defining their success by the stuff they amass.

Today, my values anchor my goals whereby I strive for happiness professionally, spritiually, physically and in my relationships. It is challenging and invigorating to pursue happiness in multiple facets of my life. It’s also considerably better than the old days when the number of widgets I needed to sell determined my goals for the upcoming year.

Through the next several weeks, I will share the research and observations regarding goal setting, based upon values and happiness. I will present it for both personal and organizational approaches to goal setting.

Happiness is the meaning and purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existance. ~Aristotle

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