What’s your goal-setting style?

Most people will agree that setting goals is a core (and important) part of achieving professional and personal fulfilment and success.

Written at a time of year when many people will be considering their personal vision and goals, this post covers an overlooked factor of success in goal accomplishment. But first…


…That sinking feeling!

We’ve all been there. The beginning of a new year. The start of a new phase in your life or career. We jump forward fuelled with determination and confidence as we seek to actualise our vision (whatever it may be).

Some of us write down a To Do list; others may write down some SMART Goals; some create an elaborate project with milestones; still others may leave that vision entirely to chance…

A month passes, and we look at the list of goal we have made, and suddenly get hit by that sinking feeling.

We haven’t achieved a single one! We may have joined a gym (for example) yet have been only three times (failing our stated goal by a massive 60%). We may have vowed to stop smoking, yet only a week in, have relapsed.

What’s going on?

Here’s what you need to know about goal setting…

Very few of us know that we have have different goal-setting styles that may either motivate or demotivate us in achieving those goals.

The problem is not the goals we set ourselves themselves – but whether the process we have followed in articulating those goals, or writing them down, matches our own style.

Fail to get that match right and you get – yes, you guessed it – guilt!

Then, eventually, you abandon your goals. Another year passes and the whole experience starts over again. Groundhog Day!

So before you sit down and write a SMART goal, knowing your goal-setting style is an essential part of achieving that goal itself. Here’s what the research tells us about goal-setting styles…

What’s your goal-setting style?

There are four goal-setting styles identified by research into goal achievement. (As defined by Annie McKee):

· 25% of people, from her research, like to plan by setting specific, measurable goals – ‘objective oriented planning’.

· 25% of people like to plan by ‘domain and direction planning’ – by identifying a place you would like to move towards (but without the specificity of a target or hard deadline).

· Approximately 25% of people are ‘task planners’ – they don’t like to think of an end state at all, but prefer checking items off a To Do list.

· Finally, 25% of people are more existentialist or ‘non-planners’ – these people believe that forces in life (or God) will take care of their goals.

(We’re greatly indebted to Richard Boyatzis’ summary of these different styles).

The key question you need to ask yourself before setting any goals, is which of the above goal-setting styles do you enjoy the most?

Goal-setting styles – examples

Here are some examples to make those styles clearer:

Objectives oriented planning

‘I want to be in London by 3pm on Friday.’

Domain and direction planning

‘I want to head south and like to be in London before the weekend.’

Activity / task oriented planning

‘I want to…

1. Go online

2. Find a travel agent

3. Get some travel options

4. Call my friends to find out the most convenient arrival time

5. Book the ticket.’

Existential planning

‘I feel I need to get away from Glasgow for a bit. I saw some pictures of London and since I’ve never been there feel that could be a great place to go.’

Why knowing your style matters in effective goal-setting

Staying true to your style is motivational. Using a different style is demotivational. It’s as simple as that.

According to Boyatzis, this is because there is evidence that the unnatural style arouses the NEA (Negative Emotional Attractor), while your natural style will arouse and activate your PEA (Positive Emotional Attractor).

In a team situation, knowing your style and the preferred style of others will help you collaborate more effectively. Basically, you will be able to complement each other (and not conflict) by bridging each others gaps on projects using, for example, our Strategic Thinking Model.

So what’s your preferred goal-setting style?