Goals are for losers

In a study of organizational change, researchers divided the efforts into three groups based on out come: most successful (top third), the average (the middle third), and the least successful (the bottom third).

The chart below shows that the top third and the bottom third set goals with similar frequency.


A typical goal would be to increase revenue by 10%. Setting goals doesn’t distinguish successful change efforts from unsuccessful ones.

The next chart shows why goals as we traditionally think of them are for losers.


The successful change efforts that had goals that were based on behaviors. Another way of saying this, is a goal that focuses on behavior is better than an outcome based goal.

If your goal is to lose 10lbs, instead set a process based goal to go to the gym 3 times a week.

This info comes from Switch. I’ve written another blog post that outlines the framework. I’m doing a deeper dive and hope to have more to share soon.

Below is the passage I have referenced (p. 62-63)

In a pioneering study of organizational change, described in the book The Critical Path to Corporate Renewal, researchers divided the change efforts they’d studied into three groups: the most successful (the top third), the average (the middle third), and the least successful (the bottom third). They found that, across the spectrum, almost everyone set goals: 89% of the top third and 86% of the bottom third. A typical goal might be to improve inventory turns by 50%. But more successful change transformations were more likely to set behavioral goals: 89% of the top third vs only 33% of the bottom third. For instance, a behavioral goal might be that project teams would meet once a week and each team would include at least on representative of every functional area. Until you can ladder your way down from a change idea to a specific behavior, you’re not ready to lead a switch. To create a movement, you’ve got to be specific and concrete.


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