Go big or go home...

In our previous article (which you can read here) we looked into the culture of the New Zealand All Blacks rugby team and how they turned themselves around after a disappointing 2003 World Cup by building a performance based culture.

In this article we will explore that process further by examining the processes of goal setting, determining values and behaviours and above all else deciding what it takes to win to establish your performance culture...


How smart are 'SMART' goals?

There are plenty of good guides and resources available on the internet (such as this one) when it comes to goal setting, so we won't go overboard in this article when it comes to the principles of SMART goal setting. However, I would like to talk the “R” in SMART – “Realistic”.

In his brilliant book “The four hour work week” Tim Ferris writes:

“Unreasonable and unrealistic goals are easier to achieve for yet another reason. Having an unusually large goal is an adrenaline infusion that provides the endurance to overcome the inevitable trials and tribulations that go along with any goal. Realistic goals, goals restricted to the average ambition level, are uninspiring and will only fuel you through the first or second problem, at which point you will throw in the towel.”

I am a big believer in the saying:

“Set goals so big that you feel uncomfortable telling them to small minded people.”

Whilst we are setting ourselves lofty goals, we should also look at what type of goals are most effective. Carol Dweck (whose experiment into feedback you can read about here) discovered the difference in outcome when one adopts what she calls a “growth mindset” - that is the mindset that the process is the goal. When elite performers focus on the outcome of an event as a goal, the mind becomes fixated on the result above all else, which can lead to a variety of performance anxiety issues. During developmental stages, as in Dweck's experiment, it can lead to complacency, improvement plateaus, lower overall achievement levels and even drop out if results do not validate the self worth of the performer. With a growth mindset, the performer is focussed on the processes that help them achieve the task and is able to find value in the lessons along the way – embracing new challenges as opportunities to learn and ultimately reaching higher levels of achievement.

With that in mind, when we set our goal we should ensure as far as possible that it is a process or performance goal, rather than an outcome goal. In our All Blacks example they chose their goal to be “to play the best rugby the world has ever seen” instead of “to win the next World Cup”. For a start the first goal is frighteningly ambitious (there have been some excellent rugby teams over the years for example) but even more alarming is its openness – it is a goal designed to drive all those involved to continually evaluate performance and strive for more.

If Steve Jobs or Richard Branson had set “realistic” goals in line with the 'SMART' principles, then we probably wouldn't have Apple or Virgin as we know them today. There are countless examples of incredible organisations that were born of unrealistic dreams.

I am also a big believer in Parkinson's Law, which states that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”. I'm sure a lot of us remember back to the days of school homework – I expect I'm not the only one who given a 2 week deadline for a piece of work would do it the night before (or on the bus on the way to school in the morning). Therefore, when setting your big goals, ensure you have factored in some sense checking deadlines to make sure you are a) still on the right course and b) to keep you and others pushing hard to meet them.

By “playing the best rugby the world has ever seen” there is a high chance that the All Blacks would be successful almost by default – the outcomes look after themselves. However, in order to play the best rugby the All Blacks would then have to drill down into the details of exactly what that would look like.


What it takes to win

In order to make this model of goal setting effective, one needs an understanding of “what it takes to win”. In a sporting context this requires a thorough analysis of the competition and the activity – who are we up against & what are they capable of and what are the prerequisites of the sport itself – what are the rules that govern success? The same principles apply outside of sport, someone starting their own business for example should be considering exactly the same questions in order to map out their path to success.

All actions and processes that come out of the above analysis must be aligned to the goal, each process must be linked to a step on the journey towards achievement. My colleagues at GB Rowing have a phrase to which all actions must answer - “Does it make the boat go faster?” If the answer is likely to be yes, then they will continue on that road. If the answer is likely to be a no, then those actions are left behind and new solutions are considered.

“What will success look like” is one of the most important questions one can ask at the start of any project, be it sporting, business or otherwise. It gives you a clear picture of where you want to go and allows you to determine the best processes to get you there.

Once you have an understanding of what success looks like and the processes that need to be undertaken you can start to look at the values and behaviours that will drive those processes forward on a day to day basis.


Values & behaviours

I have to be honest here, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with values. I have worked for commercial organisations in the past who have decided that they need to have some company values and so have picked some. Now, I could argue that if you are in a position to pick and choose your values they are not really your values at all – they are just words you think portray a certain message. Your values are personal – unique to each individual, developed through your early developmental years through the experiences you have.

I once took part in a workshop with John Neal from Ashridge Business School where we were looking into personal values. A colleague in the workshop told John that one of her personal values was honesty, to which John replied “great – stand up and tell everyone in the room exactly what you think of them”. My colleague stayed sitting. This point illustrates just how deep seated our values actually are. If my colleague truly held honesty as a value, they would have been able to do exactly as asked. In this instance the espoused values didn't match the behaviours - which is actually rather common.

Google value innovation and creativity as part of their company culture allowing their employees time in their working week to develop projects of their own. Previously this was known as “20% Time” as employees could take one day per week and whilst Google have rebranded it since, it is still a vital part of their business culture. Out of this employee creative time many Google products have been developed, including; AdSense, Gmail, Google Talk and Google News. LinkedIn, Apple and Microsoft all now run equivalent programmes and show great examples of organisations truly living their values in order to achieve their goals.

To this extent the value words chosen don't actually matter – what really impacts the day to day running of an organisation are the behaviours related to them. When devising the values for your organisation ensure that you map out, in detail, what the associated behaviours are for each value. The behaviours need to describe exactly how people will live each of your values everyday – when you speak of “passion” for example, how will somebody looking in from outside see that passion in action? Don't fall into the trap of espousing values that you don't live – your behaviours bring your values to life.


So What?

To bring all of this together we must understand how these area all tie-in. Your overall goal shapes your direction of travel, it is the guiding principle to which all other actions must be aligned. Those actions are built on your model of “what it takes to win/what will success look like” - make sure your processes make your boat go faster. Finally, work with your teams to build your values and above all the behaviours that will drive performance towards you goal. If you can achieve integration of these elements you are well on your way to establishing your performance culture.

If you or your organisation would like help setting your goals and building a performance culture for your organisation please contact us here.