Last fall I spoke to associates in a firm. My presentation was based on my book “Prepare to Win.”  During the program, I asked how many in the room had created written goals for 2011. Very few raised their hands.

Later I asked for the characteristics of good goals. One associate said: “They need to be realistic.” I realize that realistic is part of SMART goals and I didn’t say it at the time, but I disagree. I never set “realistic” goals.I think “realistic” goals are uninspiring.  Realistic goals tend to be “easy” goals to reach. They will not challenge you to reach higher.

There is scientific support for my suggestion. In Building a Practically Useful Theory of Goal Setting and Task Motivation: A 35-Year Odyssey, Edwin A. Locke and Gary P. Latham, report:

The highest level of effort occurred when the task was moderately difficult, and the lowest levels occurred when the task was either very easy or very hard…Performance leveled off or decreased only when the limits of ability were reached or when commitment to a highly difficult goal lapsed.

If you read their paper, you will also find that goals effect performance in four ways:

  • Goals serve a directive function; they direct attention and effort toward goal-relevant activities and away from goal-irrelevant activities
  • Goals have an energizing function. High goals lead to greater effort than low goals.
  • Goals affect persistence.
  • Goals affect action indirectly by leading to the arousal, discovery, and/or use of task-relevant knowledge and strategies

In a nutshell, if you set challenging client development goals, you will be more focused, you will be energized, you will persist when you do not immediately succeed and you will come up with strategies you would have otherwise missed.

Do you have confidence in your ability to generate clients and business? Are you willing to take risks to try to be extraordinary and set goals that challenge you?