Aims and Targets

Dictionary definitions
Target: “a goal to be achieved”
Aim: “to intend or direct for a particular effect or purpose”

Understanding the difference between aims and targets is critical to the process of forming successful long-term strategies. Yet, this point evades the minds of many and is one of the prime factors responsible for the corrosive stress factors that beset the 21st century.

Let’s cut straight to the chase: Whenever possible, try not to have targets but only have aims. The reason is that setting a target means projecting towards a singular, defined outcome, around which a person, a team or an entire organization evaluate their ‘success’ or ‘failure’.

Being guided by an aim creates an opportunity space for constant growth in many different contexts, thereby neutralising the pressure of a singular outcome being the criteria for success of failure. Moreover, having an aim opens the space for linear and non-linear outcomes; some of which cannot be planned for and/or predicted, as the non-linear universe of possibilities has its magical ways of catalysing human development.

The human is not a singular entity

Think ‘mind’, ‘low and high emotions’, ‘brain power’, ‘mind and presence of mind’, ‘natural inclination’, ‘instincts’, ‘intuition’, ‘humour’, ‘soul’, ‘spirit’, ‘charisma’, ‘qualities’, ‘values’, ‘personal vision’, ‘theatre’, ‘the reasons why I do what I do’… And then, all the above – and more – working in concert. Being the conductor of this magnificent inner orchestra, you would surely prefer for it to produce sublime music rather than singular tunes.

The human is designed to venture into the unknown fountain of new opportunities rather than repeatedly fixing oneself in the known and predictable

What is the measure of growth?

Consider the difference between the following two ‘mission statements’:

1. “We are looking to achieve double-digit growth this year”

2. “We are investing in creating a work environment in our company that affords exceptional personal growth opportunities for our people, in a way that inspires and empowers them to contribute to the growth of the business in no uncertain terms”

Which organization would you want to be leading/a part of?

The ultimate measure for the growth of a company is the growth of its people and how this impacts performance, creativity, innovation, business development and above all, in making the world a better place to be in.

Human growth and evolution is a non-linear event in progress

Case study

The following case study is based on a true story. To maintain privacy, the name has been changed.

Mark had a great run at his career. A distinguished Harvard graduate, at the age of 35 he was a senior R&D project-leader in a Fortune 500 company and a prime candidate to leading the division. He had a happy family life with a lovely wife and two children, but for some time his career seemed to have entered unexpected turbulence.

Mark’s team failed to meet its objectives, with friction and distance developing between him and his leadership team. At home, his wife observed that he has become somewhat distant and hard to reach in a way that was out of character. “Why is everyone so bloody minded?” he thought to himself. Things really came to a head when in a conversation with his superior Mark learnt that his position may be in jeopardy unless he got the project back on track.

Urgent to solve the problem, he applied for coaching sessions. To his surprise, one of the immediate reflections from his coach was that many of his problems came down to his poor listening capacity. “Your success has gotten to your head and you assume too much about yourself and what you can do on your own”, his coach reflected to him. The first task was to practice listening and to find ways to act upon what he learnt from listening to his colleagues and associates.

The more he practiced listening, the more he realized how far he strayed from one of the most important principles of good leadership: the ability to listen to, value and pay attention to other people’s views and feelings.

Mark set himself a target of becoming an excellent listener within a period of 3 months, with precise monthly progress markers. In evaluating his ongoing results with his coach, another problem surfaced: That of looking for results and confirmations of how well he was listening and understanding others. Feedback from those around him indicated that while he appears to be listening, he came across as a shallow and superficial listener that acted it rather than lived it. His wife reflected to him: “You have this pained expression when you listen – don’t you like finding out how others think and feel?”

After a few more coaching sessions, Mark realized that becoming a genuine listener – and realizing the difference between hearing and listening – requires deeper openness to himself, leading to a growing awareness to the difference between target thinking and aim thinking as they apply to the worlds of listening. Instead of falling into the linear trap of constantly projecting outcomes, he found himself increasingly immersed in a thrilling journey of seeking to perceive what people are struggling to express – what is the language of their inner cry and what it may call for.

Soon enough, Mark came to a pivotal personal development fact: Making a change – even a tiny one – requires years of work. The returns, though, are plentiful.

This story does have a good follow-on – Mark is currently on line to becoming a board member.

Aiming to develop one thing leads to many outcomes

To sum up

Setting a target says: “I want to make a million by the end of this year, no matter what”. Setting an aim says: “I want to maximise profits whilst keeping a watchful eye on my long-term objectives that include my well-being and quality of engagement”.

Now include others in this, translated into any application. It is one of the most important advisories for strategic planning, especially in consideration of the great complexity of living and above all, the human opportunity.

Sometime, success can only find us if we create the space for it to appear in our life, by being not overly defined about how we want it to happen.

When you set yourself a target, one point in time somewhere in the future determines whether you win or lose. When you set yourself an aim, you can win every day in a different way

A question of balance

The transition from being based in target thinking to aim thinking requires artful (self) leadership, towards a way of life that breeds wealth and success, both materially and spiritually.

It calls for a fundamental change of mindset yet is perfectly achievable. Organizations that shift to the aim mindset do better in the long run by various measures than those who don’t.

The sales-person dilemma

This would be an incomplete Fulcrum without the consideration of what the mind of a sales-person reading this may be saying: “This is all very nice, but I must fill my sales quota”. The answer is that as you transition to the aim mindset – which is the one driving the most successful sales people – you would learn how to achieve your objectives through the vector of personal growth, not just a (hopefully) brilliant sales pitch.

Aims lead the way to a world of new opportunities and possible outcomes; targets create a tunnel vision to an eventual burnout

David Gommé

World Copyright 2018© David Gommé

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