Why Failing To Set Short-Term Goals Is A Recipe For Disaster

Heather McPhie freestyle skiingChristophe Pallot/Agence ZoomFreestyle mogul skier Heather McPhie

If you’re starting a company or launching a new initiative, it can be tempting to give your team space to shoot for a long-term dream goal rather than ask them to drill down on the smaller goals along the way, especially if you’re not yet sure what those steps might be.

But according to Jody Greenstone Miller, CEO and co-founder of the Business Talent Group, failing to set specific, short-term targets can derail your project and overwhelm your team.

In an interview with The New York Times, Miller said that when she first started her company, she was afraid to put metrics down for her team because she wasn’t sure what they were going to be.

“[E]ven if I were to say to someone, ‘You’ve got to do 10 deals a month,'” she said, “I had no idea what was feasible. I thought they would appreciate me not arbitrarily laying down metrics.” Instead, by giving her team general, long-term goals instead of specific, time-sensitive targets, she unwittingly created an extremely stressful environment.

“It turned out it was a disaster,” she admitted. “People said: ‘Tell me what success looks like. Tell me what I’m shooting for.’ That was a huge lesson for me.”

Freestyle mogul skier Heather McPhie, who will compete in the Olympic Games in Sochi, learned a similar lesson in her training. “Having a goal of going to the Olympics or winning a gold medal is fantastic — and it can help get you out of bed in the morning when you are exhausted or feeling a little less motivated — but it is also something that happens once every four years,” McPhie told her Montana hometown newspaper.

Instead of gunning for the Olympics, she focused on making the U.S. Ski Team and qualifying for the NorAm Freestyle tour — smaller goals with specific, measurable targets that she could work toward. By establishing what success looked like within a defined time period, McPhie could track her progress and ensure that she was hitting personal targets while constantly moving toward her larger goal of eventually competing in the Olympics.

Even if you aren’t yet sure how to get from point A to point G, it’s critical to lay out specific interim targets with clear definitions of success so that your team can feel empowered to move the project forward.

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