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Do People in Your Business Think Alike?

By Ed Bernacki |

Managing people would be easy if everyone thinks think like you.

They will likely agree with most of your strategies and ideas. They will be motivated by the same things that motivate you. Yet do people in your business think alike? Does it make sense that people will want to managed in the same way?

The paradox is that this is exactly what we do. We would never say this but we often assume that people think alike. For example, I have heard many consultants and speakers extol the virtues of SMART goals. They introduce the same model:

  • S - Specific and significant: Your goal should be a clear and concise statement.
  • M - Measurable and meaningful: Making goals measurable helps you see your progress.
  • A - Action-oriented and achievable: Your goal should focus on actions that you can control.
  • R - Realistic and relevant: Good goals are relevant, meaningful and significant.
  • T - Time-bound and tangible: For goals that have a natural ending, a deadline adds a sense of urgency.

I came across a study by the Leadership IQ consultancy. It suggested that SMART goals do not correlate with success. Its study of 4,182 workers from 397 organisations found that the eight factors predicted whether somebody's goals would help them achieve great things. This is most intriguing:

  1. I can vividly picture how great it will feel when I achieve my goals.
  2. I will have to learn new skills to achieve my assigned goals for this year.
  3. My goals are absolutely necessary to help this company.
  4. I actively participated in creating my goals for this year.
  5. I have access to any formal training that I will need to accomplish my goals.
  6. My goals for this year will push me out of my comfort zone.
  7. My goals will enrich the lives of somebody besides me (customers or the community).
  8. My goals are aligned with the organisation's top priorities for this year.

They claim, "The typical goal-setting processes companies have been using for decades are not helping employees achieve great things. And, in fact, the type of goal-setting we should be doing is pretty much the opposite of what organisations have been doing for the past few decades." They tell us to forget SMART goals and focus on HARD goals that capture our imagination:

  • H - Heartfelt: My goals will enrich the lives of somebody besides me.
  • A - Animated: I can vividly picture how great it will feel when I achieve my goals.
  • R - Required: My goals are absolutely necessary to help this company.
  • D - Difficult: I will have to learn new skills and leave my comfort zone to achieve my assigned goals for this year.

Unless you believe all people think alike, why do we make such assertions? It is naive and counterproductive to think that any one approach will be useful for all people.

It's not wrong to think in the style that is most comfortable for you. To fully engage a person on the challenges of your organisation, you must focus on how they think, solve problems and make decisions to notice the tools and frameworks that suit their style of thinking.

Some people question everything as this is the way they solve their challenges. Others see less need to challenge everything and prefer to accept things as they are. The trouble is that most of us assume that others think like us. There is a vast amount of research in the field of thinking styles, generally referred to as cognitive diversity.

Ignoring this difference is much like a right-handed golf instructor teaching people to golf by only providing right-hand golf clubs. What if half of the group is left handed? Should we be critical of their inability to grasp the game of right-handed golf or do we recognize that we failed to see the obvious difference? The same applies to SMART and HARD goals. If offered a choice, people would likely pick the model that best fits their style of thinking.

Marshal McLuhan said, "We shape our tools and they in turn shape us."

This is a powerful idea. Tools which appeal to you may not appeal to your staff - unless you believe they think alike. Why not offer staff a choice of using tools that most appeal to them? The goal is to shape decisions on the actions we must take for success. In the end, the tools we use are not important. My next challenge is to get speakers to recognize this implication of this simple idea.

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