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Why You Should Spend More Time on Goal-Getting Than Goal-Setting

3 steps that make evolution the only resolution that matters.

This iconic image of Muhammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston

Read Time: 3 minutes

Business is often like being in the ring with a boxer. 

We strategize. We analyze. We plan. We prepare. 

Then we step into the ring and get a right hook to the jaw we never see coming.

We know this. We've lived this.

And yet, many of us will spend the next several weeks or months setting SMART goals and translating them into color-coded Gantt charts. 

Spring will arrive, and then we'll be ready to start. 

But there are two problems. 

  1. We just gave anyone we're racing a three-month head start.

  2. The world changed faster than our plan, so it's already outdated.

“It isn't the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it's the pebble in your shoe.”

Muhammad Ali

How different would this year look if we spent one day on goal-setting and devoted the rest to goal-getting? 

Here's how I'm doing it.

Discount + Bonus = MGMT Accelerated

Our partners at Maven have made the MGMT Accelerator their featured program this week.

We wanted you to hear about it directly from us

The code MAVEN250 will give you a 10% discount on our next cohort, which begins February 6th.

All students have access to a 30-minute 1:1 coaching session with me.

If you enroll by the end of the day on Monday, January 8th, we will offer you a second 1:1 coaching session.

More time together to ensure you exceed the lofty expectations you have set for yourself.


You and your team already know what you need to do. 

Just ask them. 

Seriously. Have each person write down 1 page describing what's true for the team at the end of a wildly successful year. 

  • What did they deliver? 

  • What's it like to work on the team? 

  • What did they keep doing? Stop doing? Start doing? 

When I've done this exercise, there is typically a 75-80% overlap. Sure, some of the details might vary. But unless you're doing a radical overhaul, the logical goals for most teams will be obvious. 

Codify them. Socialize them. Refine them. 

Now get after them. 

Goal-setting is like water - it will fill whatever space you give it. 

And no team has ever been rewarded for setting perfect goals. 

So let's turn our attention to what really matters...


There is no one-size-fits-all system for ensuring your team maximizes its impact. It depends on the state of your team and the goals you're chasing. 

Here are three questions I use to optimize my leadership system to match that reality. 

1. Will "business as usual" deliver the goals?

Here's a tricky thing about humans: we crave stability and instability equally. 

  • When things get too predictable, we get bored and unconsciously self-sabotage to inject variety. 

  • When things get too chaotic, we get stressed and try to simplify to restore order. 

As the leader, chances are you'll need to be the counter-force whether your team needs to change or hold its course. 

If the answer to this question is "Yes," then your goal-getting system needs to keep people focused and motivated

Focus means saying No to all the shiny objects that will tempt them. You will want to keep revisiting the goals often and develop an accurate scoreboard that's public.

Motivation should come from within each person, but there are levers you can pull to help. 

If the answer is "No," there are usually two culprits...

2. Do I have the right talent on the team? 

You know your current team, all their strengths, but also all of their flaws. You see (and feel) them every day.

Meanwhile, you romanticize the perfect hire who fits in seamlessly and elevates everyone around them. 

Caution: It's easy to get seduced by the new. 

Ensure you fully price both the investment in recruiting and the probability of successfully upgrading. 

Assuming you need to look outside, early in the year is a moment to act swiftly. The talent market is at its most fluid. 

  • People have cashed their bonus checks and are taking time to reflect on what they want from their careers. 

  • Companies are resetting plans and adjusting budgets, which creates uncertainty for the workforce. 

Remember: You’re almost always better off doing half as much twice as good. The same applies to staffing your team.

Assuming you have the right talent, you have one goal-getting lever left to pull…

3. Have I created a culture that helps them meet their potential?

Culture is your team's operating system. It is the accumulation of everyone's behavior. Or, the best definition of culture I’ve heard:

"Culture is the sum of everything you celebrate minus everything you tolerate."

Danny Meyer

As the leader, you don't get to dictate the culture, but you certainly have the power to nudge it.


Character - It's hard to fight nature. So, the most vital choice you make is who you have on the team. When your team needs a particular trait, stack it with people wired this way. If you're struggling to change the culture, you're likely trying to change people. 

Incentives - As the late Charlie Munger said, "Show me the incentive, and I'll show you the outcomes." So, what actions on your team get rewarded? And not just financially. Rethink your promotions, praise, and who you assign to prized projects. 

Storytelling - Notice I didn't say communication. This isn't a once-year corporate memo; it's a high-frequency effort to build a new mythology. And it needs to not only speak to the mind, it needs to compel the heart. Done well, it's a symphony of the new that drowns out the songs of old.

Trust - The more ground we cover, the more impact our team can have. We cover more ground when we spread out. The distance we can maintain and still know how our teammates will perform is trust. Trust is built through care and challenge.

Optimize your focus, talent and culture, and there’s no goal you can’t get.

I’m rooting for you!

Podcast Appearance

I kicked off the year with an appearance on the Future of HR podcast.

We talked about how to...

  • Max out the leadership impact equation

  • Increase improvement cycle speed

  • Avoid dropping synthesis bombs

Find it on Spotify, Apple, or your favorite platform.

Announcing: The Leadership Pulse

We get a steady stream of emails and DMs from leaders seeking data about how effectively they’re leading. They also want to know what we’re seeing at other companies.

So we’re launching a quarterly survey to help arm leaders with better data. 

It’ll be a combination of evergreen questions to help us benchmark our teams and topical questions so we can stay ahead of emerging trends.

Keep an eye out next week. Anyone who responded to the 3-minute survey will get access to the report.

We’re in the process of finalizing the questions, but before we do, what data would help you lead with more confidence?

Hit reply to this email and let us know.

Thank you for reading. Appreciate you!


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