Stop! Stop setting goals. It is a waste of time and effort.

If you know me at all, those are words are nothing short of blasphemous. I have been preaching, yes, on my soap box preaching, about identifying your purpose, setting goals, and the sheer beauty of a well-executed plan for most of my career.

But, not anymore. Well, not in the same way.

Why? I will give you three reasons based on my experiences with helping organizations create strategic plans and my own personal missteps.

1. We set goals for the wrong purpose.

If our purpose (mission) is to “Delight our Customers,” how will the goal of “increasing sales” meet and exceed customer expectations? Increasing sales is an outcome of having delighted customers who come back again and again and tell their friends about our fabulous product.

How will you delight customers? What do you need to do that you are not doing today? That is your goal.

2. We don’t act.

This is where organizational and personal goals fall flat. I can have a goal to run a marathon and create a timeline of milestones. First month: run five miles three times a week. Month six: Run 10 miles four days a week.

I will not make it past mile one of a marathon if I fail to act. Put on my running shoes and run. Training, running, eating healthy require developing the habits that will help me across the finish line.

This leads to reason three.

3. We fail to develop the habits necessary to achieve our purpose.

Delighting customers requires the habitual practice of creating quality products and services. I am not delighted when I deal with a friendly clerk on one visit but the next two weeks I am greeted with distracted and rude sales people.

I expect consistent, high quality, value-added service on every visit.

No one can run a race without the physical and mental habits required to finish a long-distance run.

If we don’t set goals, what should we do?

Stop setting goals that do not align to your mission. Stop writing plans that you will not, cannot, or lack resources to implement (act).

Begin to think about daily habits. What do you do daily? Will those actions, or lack of actions, lead to improved health and fitness? What are the habits of every employee that will “delight customers?”

What habits executed consistently across time will lead you to the goals that align to your purpose? Click To Tweet You can have the best product, flawless processes, and a slick strategic plan document.

All of it means nothing if we don’t identify the habits of excellence needed to fulfil our purpose. Then we must make those habits, well, a habit.

How did I get here?

  • Shane Parrish’s (Farnam Street) newsletter today (Focus to Finish: Goals Suck) spawned this “aha” moment regarding goals.
  • Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit got me thinking about the habits in organizations as well as our own personal ones.
  • My own failed attempts at goals (like running a marathon). I just wanted to be healthy, which doesn’t require running a marathon.
  • I have watched the frustration of leaders and staff who set or where given goals over which they had no control or the resources to implement. Worse, they did not know why or how these goals related to their purpose or daily work.

Try something new this year.

Yes, you can set a goal. Ask first: Is my goal aligned to my purpose? Then determine: What habits do I need to reach that goal?

How will you take small steps, creating new habits, consistently, over time, to reach your goal?