This is another one of my personal favorites… This was written in early 2009… Enjoy!
“Benchmarks” not “Goals” – Enhancing Your Personal and Professional Growth
A Word Defined
Not long ago I did a search looking for the definition of the word “growth”. My curiosity was prompted by a discussion with some of my colleagues at a networking event. Growth is defined in a number of different ways. In my opinion www.wikipedia.org describes it best:
“Growth refers to an increase in some quantity over time. The quantity can be physical or abstract. It can also refer to the mode of growth, i.e. numeric models for describing how much a particular quantity grows over time.”
Growth is perhaps the most important aspect personal and professional development. If you don’t focus on it, you can quickly become expendable to your employer. On the personal side, without growth your relationships may suffer. The same can be said for companies who don’t have an appropriate strategy for growth. Businesses lacking vision to improve their service or product and grow their customer base will likely be gobbled up by competitors. This begs the following questions:
- How do we continue to grow?
- What strategies can be implemented to enhance our growth?
The Typical Solution – Set a Goal
A common solution is to establish goals. The most successful people I know set goals or targets for achievement. If you are a teacher you may establish a specific GPA for your class to achieve. If you are in sales or management you can set production or efficiency goals for your employees. Almost every business establishes goals for their fiscal year. This is usually discussed during quarterly meetings with senior management or, if the company is publicly traded, with Wall Street securities analysts. According to www.wikipedia.org:
“A goal or objective consists of a projected state of affairs which a person or a system plans or intends to bring about – a personal or organizational desired end point in some sort of assumed development. Many people endeavor to reach goals within a finite time by setting deadlines.”
There are a few key words worth noting in this definition – finite, deadline and end. These words highlight the fundamental problem with goal setting and why it’s the wrong strategy to promote growth. The irony is this strategy will sometimes achieve the opposite result. Let me explain.
A few years ago my wife and I were on vacation in the Caribbean. We got up early one morning to participate in a 3 mile run sponsored by the hotel. We were led by and older gentleman who was an experienced runner and regular participant in both the New York City and Boston Marathons. During our run he explained the best time to pass a competitor is at the peak of a hill. The reason is simple. Most runners see a hill as a challenge and set a goal to reach the peak. Unfortunately, what typically happens is their subconscious mind tells them to relax at the summit. They get complacent at the peak and start to slow down because the goal was achieved. This is when you make your move. Your opponent relaxes, lets their guard down and is susceptible to being passed. Surprisingly you don’t need to go all out to move ahead. You simply need to concentrate, maintain your pace, and you will blow right by them. This is where the problem lies with goal setting. Once your objective is achieved you get complacent and growth stops. To prevent this from happening a suggested tactic is to establish a benchmark.
Measured Performance with Benchmarks
Businesses like people are living entities. They need day-to-day attention in order to be successful. A successful business owner needs to constantly work on their business model, refine their process, educate employees and lastly – be willing to change. You also need to measure your results. This helps evaluate your progress and provides a framework to measure growth. According to www.websters-merriam.com, a benchmark is:
2 a: a point of reference from which measurements may be made b: something that serves as a standard by which others may be measured or judged c: a standardized problem or test that serves as a basis for evaluation or comparison
By using a benchmark, you have a clear measurable way to evaluate your progress without becoming complacent. These benchmarks should be established on small scale to avoid overwhelming you and or your employees.
A good example in how benchmarks can be helpful is with weight loss. Health professionals generally agree the healthiest way to drop weight is to slowly burn it off over a period of to several months. Most people, however, approach the problem by setting a goal weight within a set time period. This creates two problems,
- Unrealistic expectations which leads to disappointing results, or
- Setting the bar at a level that is easily achieved
Everyone has a different metabolism and thus burn calories at different rates. If you set an unrealistic goal weight or timeframe you will likely become disappointed and quit. Ironically this can happen even though you are getting results. The problem is the results are not what you envisioned. Another problem is establishing a goal that is too easily achieved. This creates a similar problem to the running up a hill we discussed previously – complacency. Once we reach our goal weight we lose focus and put the weight back on, a common problem among compulsive dieters.
Instead of establishing a goal weight, a more effective strategy can be implemented with benchmarks. A good starting point could be to lose 1 pound a week. With this strategy you can slowly modify your diet, add a little exercise and measure your progress without being overwhelmed and losing focus. If you are achieving your benchmarks too easily you can increase them. If you are not achieving desired results you can modify your diet and exercise routine accordingly. This strategy will likely achieve better results and reduce the likelihood of complacency or becoming overwhelmed.
Time to Get Started
We can all agree growth is key to our success. Establishing an effective growth strategy can mean the difference between staying in business, or going under. Most tend to use goal setting as a method to achieve results. Unfortunately this technique can backfire leading to disappointing results or complacency. A simple strategy using benchmarks can help avoid these common pitfalls. Setting reasonable benchmarks can be a useful tool to keep your business moving forward, and most importantly help achieve the “growth” you desire.