Can Sandbagging Your Goals Be The Key To Your Success?

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Somewhere in the universe there’s an older version of me rolling his eyes. Have I gone mad? Sandbag your goals?

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Let me explain what I mean and what I don’t mean. No. I’ll let the older version of me and the newer version of me duke it out.

Old Brett: “Brett, you’re a legendary hardass. No one should ever be encouraged to achieve all their goals!

“You know that you are just encouraging lazy behavior when you say stupid things like that.”

New Brett: “I see where you’re coming from Old Brett. I know I used to believe that the key to success is setting ridiculously sky-high goals. Then you would just ride everyone, kick their ass, and they would get to 80% of their goals.

“And everyone knows that getting to 80% of a really tough goal is better than getting to 100% of a sandbagged goal, right?

“I know. I know.

“That was me, but I think about things a little differently now. I had an awakening.”

Old Brett: “A what?”

New Brett: “An awakening.”

Old Brett: “That’s what I thought you said.

“What’s in the coffee you’re drinking?"

New Brett: ‘Very funny.

“You see I’ve come to realize through lots of experimentation that setting achievable goals, and then exceeding those achievable goals, is the way to go. At least for me it is."

Old Brett: “I get it. What you’re really saying is set the bar so low that anyone can jump over it.”

New Brett: “Hardly. You’re only fooling yourself when you do that.

“Look. I know where you’re coming from. After all, you are the old me. And I know we were led to believe all these years that setting super-tough goals, and then getting as close as possible to them was the way to achieve success.

“But, as I as said, I had an awakening. And, I’ve come to realize that any success I’ve had in the past had nothing to do with the goals we set…”

Old Brett (interrupting): “Then what do we owe our success to?”

New Brett: “Ourselves.”

Old Brett: “There you go getting all touchy-feely on me again.”

New Brett: “Whatever.

“Okay. Let me ask you a question, ‘How did you feel when we never achieved our goals?’”

Old Brett: “I felt okay, I guess. I just thought that’s how we’re supposed to feel. Always striving for more, you know.”

New Brett: “Yeah, I do know how you feel.

“But what if you can strive for more AND feel really good about your achievements at the same time? Wouldn’t that feel great?”

Old Brett: “Of course it would.”

New Brett: “Well, that’s exactly how I’ve been feeling for the past few months. I’ve set realistic goals that I knew I could hit. Then I’ve hit the goals and blown right by the goals.

“And the interesting thing to me is that I feel euphoric when I blow by my goals.

“And the cool thing is when I blow by my goals it makes me want to achieve even more.”

Old Brett: “Yeah I can see how that will work for you because you’re driven. Do you intend to manage teams this way going forward?”

New Brett: “I absolutely do.”

Old Brett: “Well, prepare to fail then. Your team is just going to take advantage of you.”

New Brett: “I hear you. So let me share the whole key to making this concept of setting achievable goals work. Are you ready?”

Old Brett: “Sure.”

New Brett: “Hire the right people and setting achievable goals becomes easy.”

Old Brett: “I knew there was trick here.

“So, let me get this straight: You’re going to trust your team? You? Mr. Paranoid!"

New Brett: “Like I said, I’ve had an awakening.

Old Brett: “There you go again. You’re using that word.”

New Brett: “Proudly.

“Think about the people we’ve worked with in the past that really achieved a lot. Were they motivated by the stretch goals we gave them?

“No, their motivation came from within.

“And that’s the key.

“Hire the right people, and by the right people I mean people with integrity that are smart, passionate about our mission, and fit our culture.  Then setting achievable goals is the way to go.

“The right people will push themselves to do more."

Old Brett: “I think I finally see what you’re getting at. It’s all about the people. Remember that guy we worked with that I fired years ago?

“I tried everything I could to get him on track. Nothing worked. Then, I had to fire him.

“That really sucked.”

New Brett: “Yeah, I remember him. He was a really nice guy, but he just couldn’t cut it.

“The goals had nothing to do with his success or failure.

“The real purpose of setting goals is that the company can plan its future. Setting unrealistic goals doesn’t get us there.

“Setting goals we know we can achieve gets us there. But that’s not the reason for my change of heart."

Old Brett: “I like ‘change of heart’ better than ‘awakening’.

New Brett: “No problem. I’ll use change of heart going forward.

“So, back to what I was saying.

“My change of heart really has to do with the momentum you build throughout an organization when you consistently are hitting your goals. Again, I’m not saying you should sandbag, but I am saying be realistic.

“Remember when we changed how we managed engineering?”

Old Brett: “Yes.”

New Brett: “Remember how we had engineering schedules with no buffers? Remember how we pushed to meet those schedules, and we fell short?

Old Brett: “Yes.”

New Brett: “Do you remember the board’s reaction when we missed even though we were doing really good work?”

Old Brett: “Yes, they didn’t get it. All they could see was we were missing our schedules.”

New Brett: “That’s right. That’s all they could see. Once we started managing schedules using Eli Goldratt’s Critical Chain methodology everything changed.  It's one of the best business books I've ever read.

Old Brett: “You’re absolutely right. The board gained a lot of confidence once we made that change. Not only that, but we became much more accurate, and we got things done quicker.”

New Brett: “That’s the idea. You actually improve performance when you move to this methodology.

“And do you remember the confidence the team developed, and how much harder they pushed themselves?”

Old Brett: “Yes, I do remember. But not everybody has a great team. What do you do then?”

New Brett: “Do you really think a new methodology regarding goal-setting is going to solve a people issue? I don’t.”

Old Brett: “So what do you plan to do in that situation since you’re so smart?”

New Brett: “Man, you are stubborn! You’ve got to fix the personnel issue. But goal-setting can help there too.”

Old Brett: “How?”

New Brett: “By letting an employee set their own goals, you are empowering the employee. Conversely, you are also giving the employee the ability to prove themselves.

“It’s self-correcting. Let’s say you have an employee that does really great work, but sets unrealistic high goals. Should you fire the employee for missing the goals?”

Old Brett: “Isn’t that what your advocating?”

New Brett: “No way! Then, you work with the employee to set realistic goals. Remember Greg?”

Old Brett: “Yeah, Greg was great, but he always set these really crazy goals!”

New Brett: “Yep, that was Greg. We just had to work with him and make adjustments for his ambition, but not temper the ambition at the same time.

“We needed the goals to be realistic, so we could plan properly.”

Old Brett: “Yes it did work. Greg was a genius.”

New Brett: “He still is a genius, but goals weren’t his thing.

“We live in the real world, so you make adjustments.”

Old Brett: “Okay, I think I’ve finally got it.

“Let me get this straight. You’re saying ask your team to set realistic goals they know they can hit, then let them hit the goals, adjust over time for those who are great employees, but not great goal-setters, and then watch momentum build?

“That’s it?”

New Brett: “That’s the idea.”

Old Brett: “You sure have changed, haven’t you.”

New Brett: “Yes I have.”

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