The Danger of Confusing Goals With Results

Setting goals is an important part of life. Goals keep us focused, they give our lives meaning, and reaching a goal usually comes with a desirable result. But what if people only care about the result? Will they focus on the right things? I see people confuse goals and results all the time, and it can be a disaster for everyone involved. It pays to understand the relationship between them.

Would you like to be rich? Sure, most people would. But many rich people didn’t set out to get rich. They were driven to solve a problem, build a legacy or make the world a better place. Getting rich was a result of their dedication to a goal or passion that they had. 

There will always be people whose goal is to get rich, but what are the results of that? We’ve all heard the stories of wealthy people who live empty and unfulfilling lives. We also know that people lie, cheat and steal, because these are all tactics that can make you rich. For these people, the end justifies the means and integrity is the first casualty.

The Mistake That Business Leaders Make

Business leaders have tremendous power. They set goals for their teams and they inspire the culture of their companies (probably more than they even realize). But leaders fall into the same trap as everyone else, and the effects can destroy a company.

Self-interest is one of the biggest traps that leaders can fall into when they set goals for an entire organization. Here’s a common culprit: The leadership of a company makes it clear that the goal is to get acquired. Unless you’re working in a startup where everyone has equity, getting acquired means that leaders get a big payday and everyone else gets to wonder about their job security. I’ve seen this go down in company-wide meetings and it sucks the morale right out of the room. 

Even if you’re in a startup where everyone has equity, a good leader shuts down the idea that the goal is to get acquired. “Yeah, we’d all like a big payday. But that’s not going to happen unless we focus on this product launch, build relationships with our customers and become the best damn widget-maker in the universe. Wooh!” (…is what a good leader might say to get his or her employees back on track and focused on the right things.)

Corporate Goals Need to Include Everyone

A good corporate goal unites an entire company. Everybody in the company might be working on different things, but they all need to be working toward the same thing. Nobody can be excluded, otherwise the whole thing goes to pot. Factions are created. People start working in opposite directions. Rivalries form and everyone is left wondering why the company culture crumbled.

Yes, Results Are Important Too

None of this means that you should throw results out the window. Sometimes you need to increase sales by 10%. But that means you should start looking for a goal that will have that result. Maybe you’ll reach that goal and your sales still fall short. That’s fine. Leaders get to make mistakes too, and the good ones admit them and learn from them. This takes time, trial and error. 

A leader’s job is to understand the relationship between goals and results; to communicate realistic goals to employees; and to prepare investors for realistic results. And once a leader gets in the zone, it means making managers and employees accountable for goals and making him or herself accountable for results.