Understanding aspirations, goals, commitments, and values…. and why they are not all the same

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Early in the year, most of us are looking ahead to what the new year will bring. Often, that leads to creating resolutions for our personal lives and goals for our work lives. When we do so, are we creating our aspirations for the year… or are they goals? To some, they might be viewed as commitments. And, what about my values? This can be a bit confusing and can even result in misapplication of our efforts. So, I thought it might be good today to look at the real meaning of each of these terms and how they should be applied as we plan our future efforts.

First of all, let’s discuss a topic that I personally think limits the true potential of an individual and, thus, an organization. How many times have you heard a manager or senior leader say something like this, “Your goals for this year are your aspirations and plans. When business conditions change, your goals can be modified.” Sure! Easy to say! However, the reality is that few individuals really have the opportunity to modify goals as the business changes. Worse yet, if you fail to achieve any of your “goals”, your year-end rating is reduced. That top “exceptional” rating is reserved only for those individuals that achieve or exceed every goal. If you slip on just one, your rating falls. The result is that individuals tend to be conservative when establishing goals to help ensure that they cannot fail to achieve or exceed each one. Or, they reflect in their goals activities that should be considered their “basic job” or “standard acceptable functions” of the job. There is no stretch to achieve more that that basic level of performance. The fear of failure (and, thus, the fear of missing even one goal) drives the individual to aim lower than they could/should potentially achieve. We need to get away from this and allow individuals the ability to stretch, yet retain the ability to achieve the highest rating.

Anyway, let’s look at the meaning of each of these terms:

  1. Aspiration – an aspiration is simply something we hope to achieve. It is something we aim to attain, yet we likely do not develop a specific plan to get there. For example, I aspire to shoot my age in golf. For those that have seen me play, they know that is an impossible task. Yet, I can still aspire to achieve it. Companies often say something like, “We aspire to be the leading brand in our industry.” Yet, they have not put a strategic plan in place that is likely to lead to attainment of this aspiration. In many ways, an aspiration is like a wish. I aspire to be a great guitar player. I aspire to run a marathon. I aspire to be the best at _______. Without a plan followed by the required effort, aspirations are never (or rarely) achieved.
  2. Goal (or objective) – a goal is something we definitely plan to achieve and we put plans in place to achieve. You have probably heard the term SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely) used regarding good goal-setting. Yes, goals should be SMART. A goal is something that allows you to say at the end of the year, “Goal achieved (or not).” There should be no ambiguity regarding attainment of goals. It is always amazing to me that the same senior management individuals that insist our goals be SMART publish goals that say something like, “Continue efforts to expand market presence.”
  3. Commitment – a commitment is different from a goal in that it is more like a promise. When you make a commitment, you will do everything in your power and ability to achieve it. It is much more than a hope, wish, or prayer. I’ll talk more about commitments in an upcoming edition of The Porch, but suffice to say today that a commitment should be treated as a solemn promise that others can trust. It indicates a dedication to a cause and, because it is so serious, often restricts the choices or freedom of an individual. Thus, we should carefully consider the risks and benefits before making a commitment.
  4. Value – a value speaks more to our core character than the other terms. A value is a belief or attribute or choice we make that supersedes others. A value is something that should be or become part of our DNA… it is inextricably part of us. An example of a value is “I will consider others before self.” Thus, when a conflict arises, my default will always be to consider first what is better for the other person. Values should not change year-to-year. They should be what drives us…. they are how we live, act, and think.

As you plan 2020, consider what is really a goal and how you will approach achieving it. And, don’t confuse a goal with a commitment. If you do, your activities will be driven in a direction that may not be best for you or the organization.

Have a great day and be on the lookout for more on commitments coming soon.

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