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How Big Goals Can Destroy Motivation

Posted by Bob Corlett on January 26, 2016

My client Bill has a unique yardstick for measuring results. It has no markings between one inch and 36 inches. Every project either measures up as a total success or a total failure, with nothing in between.

People who give up on their New Year’s resolutions at the first sign of failure might share something in common with Bill.

For Bill, his absolutist thinking is source of frustration for him, because the world is increasingly complex and ambiguous. And his all-or-nothing expectations also rob his employees of the joy and motivation that flow from incremental progress. Paradoxically, his focus on the big goal actually impedes his progress toward it.

Big audacious goals are important, but not at the expense of celebrating the small victories along the away. Small wins build momentum toward large wins.

With the launch of any new initiative, an ocean of seen and unseen constraints will thwart progress. All anyone can do is set sail in what they hope is the right direction, and plan to learn something along the way. You can adjust your course with each new bit of information; those challenges are integral to the outcome. Just remember that most projects look like a failure in the middle.

So set grand goals, but admit that any new initiative is an experiment. Reframing your approach as an experiment instantly alters everyone’s mindset and expectations. The goal of all experiments is to learn, and temporary setbacks are expected.

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Topics: Performance Management