Jun 222011
 
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How To Set Goals So You Will Achieve Them

Assuming you agree that setting goals is a worthwhile step, it is key to understand how to set them in a way that will increase the likelihood that you achieve them. The best and simplest model I have seen and used for setting goals effectively is the S.M.A.R.T. approach, which encourages you to set goals with the following characteristics:

[S]pecific: The goals you set for yourself should be as specific as possible. So, for example, you wouldn’t say “I want to have a profitable business”. Instead, you’d say I want to have a business that generates $2 million in sales and 25% EBITDA by year-end 2013. If you are setting a goal for yourself in the area of marathoning, you wouldn’t say “I want to run a fast marathon”. Rather, you would say, “I want to run a 3:10 marathon, with a 1:30 half split, by November 2012”.

[M]easurable: The goals you set should be measurable. That is, they should have a numeric or quantitative element that is measurable, rather than just be qualitative. If you cannot come up with a numeric element, you should at least come up with something that a third-party, objective observer could look at and relatively easily say whether you have or have not achieved that goal. For example, in business, it may be hard to specifically measure “empathy,” a desirable characteristic particularly for sales people, however if you’re working with a coach or mentor, they may be able to observe whether your demonstration of empathy toward prospective and current clients has improved over time. In sports, it may be hard to measure “awareness” of overall scenarios during a game; however, you may be able to come up with a proxy statistic that gives you a sense of the improvement in your awareness. Such a statistic in hockey or basketball, for example, may be assists. Where possible though, you will want to make as many of your goals as possible directly measurable. Examples in sports would be x number of assists, goals, wins, runs, etc. Examples in business would be sales, new accounts opened, net income percentage, etc. Chances are that in your endeavor, whatever it may be, you have a good sense of the metrics that you should be measuring and striving for.

[A]ttainable: It is important that the goals that you set for yourself are “attainable” or that you at least believe strongly that you can attain them and can put a plan in place to do so. If you are simply throwing down huge, unreasonable goals with unreasonable timeframes, you are setting yourself up for failure. I’m a huge fan of “stretch” goals and I strongly believe that you should challenge yourself as much as possible. That said, it is important that you set incremental goals along the way, so that you can see a clear path to your ultimate objective(s) and so that you can experience some successes along the way. If you structure your goals in such a way that you cannot experience success until the very end, you run a great risk that you will lose interest and/or belief in the process. So, in sum, challenge yourself with your goals, as that is the only way to achieve greatness, however, you should do so in such a way that you are able to experience incremental successes along the way.

[R]elevant: Often times I’ve seen the “R” of the S.M.A.R.T. acronym for goal setting used to represent “realistic,” but as far as I’m concerned, that is too similar to “attainable”. For this reason, I prefer to use “R” to represent “relevant”. Given that if you are focused on becoming great at your endeavor, you are undoubtedly a very busy person, it’s important that your goal setting be not just effective, but also efficient. It does not make sense to pursue goals that are not relevant to obtaining your ultimate objective of greatness. This idea relates closely to the concept I covered elsewhere of “taking out the trash,” or doing those things that you may not necessarily love doing, but you know need to be done. For example, in the context of goal-setting, it does not make sense to note goals for concepts or activities you have already mastered, even though it may feel good and be squarely in your comfort zone to do so. Rather, you should focus your efforts and your goal-setting on mastering those things you need to work on to accelerate your journey toward greatness in your chosen endeavor(s). There are exceptions, of course. For example, in tennis, if getting your first serve in is absolutely critical to success, there’s no harming in noting a first service percentage goal, even if you are already a great server. The point is, don’t do so to the detriment or exclusion of, for example, setting lateral and forward quickness goals, even if those may be areas that you don’t enjoy quite as much.

[T]ime-sensitive: Make sure that ALL the goals you set have a deadline or target date associated with them. This is of critical importance. A deadline usually forces us to become more focused. It ignites our competitive spirit and usually makes us achieve more, more quickly. Without a deadline or target date, a goal is more like a wish and it is far less likely to be accomplished. On the subject of time, it is also important to bear in mind that you should set short-, medium- and long-term goals for yourself. There are a couple of major reasons for this. First, as mentioned above, if you have some short- and medium-term incremental goals, this is more likely to permit you to enjoy some successes along the way to your ultimate goals. This should help with your self-confidence. Second, having incremental goals along the way is more likely to allow you to “course correct” on the path to achieving your ultimate goal(s). If you simply have one long-term goal out on the horizon, it makes it a lot more difficult to know if you are on the right track and make sensible adjustments if you are not.

It is important to set goals for yourself in all areas of your life. In particular, it is important to do so in the area(s) where you are trying to achieve “greatness”. It allows you to enjoy incremental victories en route and it also makes it easier to determine whether you’re on the right path and make course corrections as necessary. Make sure that as you develop your goals, you do so in a S.M.A.R.T. way.

I look forward to your thoughts, comments and questions.

Paul Morin
paul@CompanyFounder.com
www.CompanyFounder.com.

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Jun 162011
 
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How To Succeed – Doing What Needs To Be Done

Once you have determined what it takes to succeed and become great in your endeavor, business, or sport, you need to do it. Sounds simple, right? Then why do we so often have a tendency to do other things, instead of what really needs to be done?

The reality is that, as human beings, we tend to do the things we like to do, rather than the things that need to be done. The term “comfort zone” arose from this tendency. We like to stay in our comfort zone as much as possible. Some naturally don’t mind venturing outside their comfort zone, but they are rare animals indeed. For everyone else, there are tricks to get you to “do the right thing” with greater frequency.

It all starts with ensuring that you understand what “the right thing” is. Have you carefully determined, as much as possible, exactly what it takes to be great at your endeavor? If you skip this step, you are shooting in the dark and leaving it largely to chance whether what you do and what you become good at have much relevance to becoming great in your endeavor. In startup entrepreneurship, for example, you may have heard that it’s important to raise capital, either via loans or from equity investors. So you become very good at raising capital and bring several million dollars of investments into your startup. You then quickly realize though that having sufficient capital on hand is only part of the picture and you squander the investments you’ve received. You must understand and strive to master as many of the key requirements as possible, not just the one that gets the most press, or the one you like the best.

If you’ve taken the time and put in the effort to truly understand what it takes to become great in your endeavor, you’ve created a very good foundation for reaching your goals. Speaking of goals, and we’ll talk about this more elsewhere, have you put any in place? If not, how will you know if you’ve succeeded? What will you use to motivate you to do all the things you need to do for success, rather than just some of them? Be sure to set goals that are well-defined, have a timeline, and are attainable. Set smaller goals along the way, so you can feel “successes,” however small they may be, which help you gain confidence and will further motivate you to “take out the trash” – to do those things you don’t necessarily like to do, but that you know need to be done in your preparation.

Ok, so now that we’ve brought up “taking out the trash” or doing what you don’t necessarily love to do, let’s go back to the example we used elsewhere – trying to become a great clay-court singles tennis player. Let’s take another look at the simple requirements/strengths/weaknesses table that we used in that example.

self assessment matrix - tennis

In this example matrix for becoming a great clay-court singles tennis player, our previous focus was on first understanding the requirements for becoming great, estimating their relative importance, and then assessing ourselves against those requirements, potentially with the help of a coach or other third party. The idea was then to prioritize our actions, giving higher priority to those areas of greater importance where we were not currently as strong. An example above would be working on improving our forward speed – it has an importance of 9 on a 1-10 scale and we assess our strength in that area as a 6 (also on a 1-10 scale). Our coach assesses our strength in that area even a bit lower. This would be a great area to focus in on, given that it has significant potential to impact our ability to achieve our goal of becoming a great clay-court singles player.

Continuing with this example of improving our forward speed, which would come very much in handy on a clay court, where opponents tend to hit a lot of drop shots, let’s say that you really dislike running drills. Then, to use the terminology from above, this would be an example of “taking out the trash” – doing something that you don’t necessarily love to do, but you know needs to be done. Given that your lateral speed in the example matrix above has similar importance and was also assessed as a relative weakness, it wouldn’t be too surprising if you truly viewed running as “taking out the trash.” What would most people do in this case? Quite frankly, they would do absolutely nothing. They would find every excuse not to “take out the trash” and they would continue to be mediocre at best with their forward and lateral speed. Those that were truly determined to become great, on the other hand, would do as much speed and running work as they could to overcome this known deficiency. They would also do the same with any other known deficiencies, thus giving their opponents less weaknesses to pick on and giving themselves more confidence to proceed en route to achieving their goals.

So what is “taking out the trash” in your endeavor? If you’re an entrepreneur, is it making phone and in-person sales calls to new prospects? If you’re a musician, is it practicing a certain note that constantly gives you problems? If you’d like to become a veterinarian, but don’t love math and sciences, is it somehow learning how to love them so you can achieve your dreams? If you’re an aspiring basketball player, is it shooting free throws? You get the idea. If you’ve done your homework to understand the requirements and been honest with yourself in assessing your abilities versus those requirements, you’ll know what needs to be done. Some of it you’ll enjoy doing. That will be what you want to do most of the time. Some of it you won’t enjoy doing; in fact, you may really dislike it. It may however be very important to your success. This will be the “trash” you need to take out.

Do you care enough to “take out the trash” as much as possible? Can you stomach going outside your comfort zone and doing whatever it takes to succeed?

I look forward to your thoughts, questions, and comments.

Paul Morin
paul@CompanyFounder.com
www.CompanyFounder.com.

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Jun 152011
 
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How To Determine Your (Relevant) Weaknesses

In order to determine your weaknesses, presumably so you can address them and improve in those areas, you must first put a frame around the question: “what are my weaknesses.” This means that in order to identify and address your weaknesses, you must first determine which weaknesses are relevant. What is it that you are trying to accomplish? For example, if you’re trying to become a great entrepreneur, it wouldn’t be particularly relevant that you can’t sing very well, unless of course, your business is a singing telegram service with you as the solo performer. Likewise, if you’re trying to become a great marathon runner, it wouldn’t be particularly relevant that you don’t excel at the 100 yard dash.

First, of course, you must decide what it is you are trying to be great at. Be as specific as you can. For example, just saying “running” is not sufficiently specific. It should be more along the lines of: running the 100 yard dash, the mile, marathons, etc – you get the idea. Likewise, it wouldn’t be sufficient to say, “I want to be great at business.” It should be more specific, such as, “I want to be a great startup entrepreneur,” or “I want to be a great CEO of a medium-sized company,” or “I want to become great at identifying undervalued companies, buying them, and then selling them at a large profit.” What is it that you are trying to be great at? Write it down as specifically as you can.

In order to further frame the question, let’s go back to an earlier concept about how to determine what it takes to be great at something. There we discussed that there are four principal ways to find out what it takes to be great at something (below is a summary of each of the four ways; for the full article go here):

The first, quickest and most direct method of obtaining the requirements for becoming great at something, is to go directly to the “horse’s mouth”. That is, you should contact one or several people who have already done what you’re trying to do and ask them how they did it. Try to get as many specifics as possible.

The second method of finding the key requirements is to talk to one or several coaches in that domain. These could also be referred to as subject matter experts (SMEs) or maybe even SMEs with a bit extra, as they have chosen to be coaches and thus are likely oriented toward understanding how to maximize performance in your particular endeavor.

The third manner of uncovering the key requirements for greatness in your endeavor is to read books by experts in the field. Reading appeals to some folks and does not appeal to others. There are also many books on tape now, which you can listen to when you are driving or exercising. You can also find many instructional videos if you happen to be someone who learns better by watching video.

The fourth way to discern the key requirements for achieving greatness in your field is to watch true professionals in action. If what you’re trying to become great at is a sport, watch as many events as you can, but don’t just watch as a fan or casual observer; watch as a student of the game. Use the stop action (pause) on your DVR. In many endeavors, you can also often watch “professionals” in action by just asking permission.

These approaches to determining how to be great at something are not mutually exclusive. You can and should use of mix of these approaches to accelerate and optimize your learning.

Once you have a good idea of what it takes to become great at your chosen endeavor, you are now ready to compare your personal abilities against the “requirements.” Often times, it’s a good idea to take a look at this on your own, but then to follow up with a coach or some other qualified third party, as it can be difficult to be objective in looking at your own abilities. That said, if you don’t have access to such a third person, a self-assessment is far better than doing nothing at all and just fumbling along blindly.

How you do this assessment of your weaknesses may vary, but one simple way to do it is to make a basic matrix that includes the key requirements, the relative importance of each requirement, then your and another person’s ratings of your abilities. The following is a simple (and incomplete) example of such a matrix for someone looking to become a great clay-court singles tennis player. The ratings are on a scale of 1-10, with ten being most important and the highest attainable level for the self- and coach assessment.

requirements/weaknesses assessment - tennis

We won’t go through this assessment in excruciating detail, but let’s focus in on a couple of key points. First, bear in mind that this is a simple and incomplete example of an assessment. While something like this sample will get you much of what you need to assess your strengths and weaknesses, if you truly want to become great at something, whatever it may be, you’ll want to take this assessment to as granular a level as possible, so that you can really home in on the key areas you need to work on. Second, it’s key to focus in on those areas that have high importance, on which you and/or your coach also rated you with a low score. It is by prioritizing this way that you will optimize your efforts and get the most from the time you invest. It should also accelerate your improvement, which will in turn give you additional confidence and likely better performance in all areas. Third, based on this example, you can see the importance of getting the input of a coach or another qualified third party, as the tendency in most cases is to rate yourself more generously than a third party may. Also, it is likely that, if selected well, that third party or coach will have a much broader frame of reference in the selected endeavor than you do and will thus be able to give you a more objective and complete assessment. Finally for now, note that although this example assessment pertains to a sport, it is equally applicable in almost any endeavor at which you are trying to become “great.”

You may recall from a previous article that 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” has been identified as the benchmark for what it takes to become an expert in anything. Deliberate practice refers to a form of practice that involves not just simply showing up, but rather very deliberately setting objectives, performing practice, and getting feedback on the results. Implicitly such practice involves zeroing in on weaknesses and attempting to address and correct them on an ongoing basis. In other words, to use golf as an example, just going to the driving range and hitting a bucket of balls is not sufficient. Rather, you should go to the driving range with a specific objective or set of objectives in mind, attempt to accomplish them, and note where your results vary from those intended. You should then determine what errors or weaknesses caused the variance, and then work on correcting those issues. It is in this way that you are most likely to see continuous improvement and progress toward your objective of becoming great. As noted above, this approach applies equally to sports and non-sports endeavors.

I look forward to your thoughts, comments and questions.

Paul Morin
paul@CompanyFounder.com
www.CompanyFounder.com .

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Aug 022010
 
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In recent years we’ve learned many lessons about the importance of earnings to the sustainability of a company.  The shell game that was played on Wall Street for several years was amusing (but not funny to the many who got fleeced by it).  Rather than being valued as they should – as a function of their earnings and future earnings potential – companies were valued on such strange metrics as multiples of click-throughs and page visits.  This of course made no sense, and as the whole Internet sector came crashing to earth, many very smart people began to ask themselves how they could have bought into such crazy measures of success.  It is of course valid to look at other measures of performance, as indicators of where a company stands and how it is progressing, but do not forget, in the end it is all about the ability to produce earnings, which can be reinvested or taken as dividends by the owners of the company – the shareholders.  You may be the only shareholder in your company, at this point at least, but that then makes this point all the more relevant to you.  It’s all your money, your updisde, and your potential downside..

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