What do you want? Yes, that’s a pretty big question for lawyers since most would start by explaining… “That depends…” I think Forbes contributorBruce Kasanoff who ghostwrites articles for entrepreneurs, and speaks about bringing out talent in others has a great bit of advice. Kasanoff explains…

“To paraphrase a bit, a professional recently wrote me to say that he was capable of being a VP, but that he was happy in his job, but he didn’t do such a good job of representing himself, but he was proud of his accomplishments, but he thought he should probably improve his skills, and what did I think?

I think he should have written: can you help me become a VP this year?

To get what you want, you have to be coherent, both inside and out.

This means you have to be clear, simple and focused in how you communicate with others. It also means you have to be clear, simple and focused in how you think. If one day you want to be VP, and the next you aren’t sure that you want to work harder or travel more, then you will never be a VP.

Perhaps you don’t want to be a VP. That’s ok— but to get what you want, you need to know what you want.

Once you decide, stick with it.

Wake up every day with your goal in mind. Simplify your language so that you can hold your goal in your mind and be prepared to share it with others. Be ready to deliver your elevator pitch whenever appropriate.

Your elevator pitch is what you will say to whomever has the potential to help you get what you want: a colleague, friend, neighbor or potential employer.

You need to make it easy for other people to help you. 60% of the people I meet do not do this. Instead, they share a sort of “stream of consciousness” slice of their feelings, emotions, experiences and ideas. I’m often left wondering whether the other person wants to be a magician or a doctor. In a perfect world, I would have days and days to get to know what’s in that person’s heart. But in the real world, I may only have a few minutes.

Just the other day, a young man wrote to say he actually wanted to be a doctor, but that he had been sidelined by financial and personal issues. He seemed more focused on those problems than on his goal of being a doctor. That’s understandable, but if your goal is to be a doctor, focus all your energies on that goal, so that any problems or obstacles pale in comparison.

I know this may sound trite, but that is how successful people operate. They know what they want, and they focus on that goal. The goal grows and grows until it block out most other things. They see the result in their mind, so clearly that they can describe it in powerful terms to others. At that point, it becomes exceptionally easy for other people to help. Why? Partially because they understand the goal, but also because it is human nature to want to join a winning team. When we sense that a person has fire in her belly and is destined to succeed, we want to help her out.”

Lawyers… take note that focusing on why you can’t do something, and focusing on the obstacles, doesn’t really get you where you want to go. Be clear and focus on your goal with blinders on and don’t let the naysayers rain on your parade. It’s your career and your life, stay in the driver’s seat! 

If you would like help figuring out what you truly want, drop me an email.

Consider not setting goals? Heresy! Why would Peter Bregman, contributor to the Harvard Business Review write such a thing? He’s the master of getting things done, focusing, prioritizing, etc. Remember that he’s the author of 18 Minute: Find Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done. This shatters what we’ve been taught since grade school. Why? The question rattled around in my head as I started reading the article. Resisting and resisting as I read…

We all know how important it is to have goals, right? And not just any goals, but stretch goals. Big Hairy Audacious Goals (or BHAGs, as they’re known to the inner goal-setting crowd).

It makes sense: if you don’t know specifically where you’re going, then you’ll never get there. And if you don’t set the bar high enough, you’ll never live up to your potential.

This is accepted common sense in the business world and it’s reinforced by research. Like that study done on the Harvard Business School class you may have heard of, in which only 3% of the graduating students wrote down clear goals. Twenty years later, those 3% were worth 10 times the worth of the rest of the class combined. Compelling, right?

It would be if it were true. But it isn’t. That study doesn’t exist. It’s pure urban myth.

Still, that’s just one specious story. Questioning the wisdom of setting stretch goals is like questioning the very foundation of business. We might debate which goals to set, or how to set them, but who would debate whether to set goals at all?

I’d like to.

It’s not that goals, by their nature, are bad. It’s just that they come with a number of side effects that suggest you may be better off without them.

The authors of a Harvard Business School working paper, Goals Gone Wild, reviewed a number of research studies related to goals and concluded that the upside of goal setting has been exaggerated and the downside, the “systematic harm caused by goal setting,” has been disregarded.

They identified clear side effects associated with goal setting, including “a narrow focus that neglects non-goal areas, a rise in unethical behavior, distorted risk preferences, corrosion of organizational culture, and reduced intrinsic motivation.”

Here are two of the examples of goals gone wild the authors described in their paper:

  • Sears set a productivity goal for their auto repair staff of bringing in $147 for every hour of work. Did this motivate employees? Sure. It motivated them to overcharge on a companywide basis.
  • Remember the Ford Pinto? A car that ignited when it was rear-ended? The Pinto resulted in 53 deaths and many more injuries because workers omitted safety checks in pursuit of Lee Iacocca’s BHAG goal of a car that would be “under 2000 pounds and under $2,000” by 1970.
  • And here’s another, via the New York Times: Ken O’Brien, the former New York Jets quarterback, was throwing too many interceptions. So he was given what seemed to be a pretty reasonable goal — fewer interceptions thrown — and penalized financially for every one. It worked. He threw fewer interceptions. But only because he threw fewer passes. His overall performance suffered.

Okay. I can see the negative side effects, I mumble to myself, and continue reading…

It’s practically impossible to predict the negative side effects of a goal.

When we set goals, we’re taught to make them specific and measurable and time-bound. But it turns out that those characteristics are precisely the reasons goals can backfire. A specific, measurable, time-bound goal drives behavior that’s narrowly focused and often leads to either cheating or myopia. Yes, we often reach the goal, but at what cost?

So what can you do in the absence of goals? It’s still often necessary to drive toward achievements, especially in business. We need help setting direction and measuring progress. But maybe there’s a better way to achieve those things while sidestepping goals’ negative side effects.

I want to propose one: Instead of identifying goals, consider identifying areas of focus.

Now, he’s making sense. Focus!

A goal defines an outcome you want to achieve; an area of focus establishes activities you want to spend your time doing. A goal is a result; an area of focus is a path. A goal points to a future you intend to reach; an area of focus settles you into the present.

A sales goal, for example, might name a revenue target or a specific number of new clients won. An operations goal might articulate a cost savings.

An area of focus in sales, on the other hand, might involve having lots of conversations with appropriate prospects. An operations area of focus might identify areas you want to explore for cost savings.

Obviously these aren’t mutually exclusive. You could have a goal and an area of focus. In fact, one could argue that you need both together — the goal specifies where you’re going and the area of focus describes how you plan to get there.

I took a deep breath that restored my loyalty to Peter and his philosophy. I see that we were actually on the same page all along. When I talk to lawyers about creating a strategic plan I ask. How can you build relationships? How can you increase your credibility and visibility? Of course: areas of focus.

But there is a benefit to concentrating on an area of focus without a goal.

An area of focus taps into your intrinsic motivation, offers no stimulus or incentive to cheat or take unnecessary risks, leaves every positive possibility and opportunity open, and encourages collaboration while reducing corrosive competition. All while moving forward on the things you and your organization value most.

In other words, an area of focus offers all the advantages of a goal without the negative side effects.

I agree with Peter, the possibilities expand and in ways that we would not think possible. This is a hard one for lawyers since you don’t like to ask questions that you don’t know what the answers will be. Right? But trust the process. Think about it. If you focus on building stronger relationships with your existing clients, new matters will follow. And you will relax and be more genuine.

So… in conclusion Peter and I were on the same page all along. But he hooked me with that headline that made me resist his comment. But I have to admit that I have seen side effects as damaging as some of those he pointed out. Stay focused on the big picture and the rewards will follow.

I believe the key to success in business development is to do something every single day… create a habit. As some of you may know, I wrote a book on the subject, The Little Black Book: A Lawyer’s Guide To Creating A Marketing Habit In 21 Days. When you plant seeds day after day… day after day, things start to happen. You get to a critical mass in addition to creating a habit that allows you to do things in an automatic way. It is a powerful process because things start to develop and grow in clusters. One call or conversation can lead to several contacts. Here are several principles to keep in mind as you work towards your business development goals that may seem “impossible” today:

1. Do something every single day. There are 365 days in a year, you may say… “But I don’t work every day!” But you can think everyday, can’t you? I include the weekends because I think you can take a few moments while you are sipping your morning coffee to THINK. Think about whom you might reach out to or an article you might write. While you are reading the Sunday paper, if you are looking for it there will be an idea or two that will inspire you.

2. Make a long, long list of possible actions you can take to develop business on a daily basis. Keeping a list of ideas will ensure that you will never lose momentum. Be creative and think outside the box. Write down things that might feel uncomfortable, for instance, write a book.

3. Look at your list everyday. Some days certain things will call to you and others will be reserved for later. Or you will find the things that make sense to follow other initiatives. It is your frame of mind that will make this a game and not a chore.

4. Make this a priority. Make it a rule not to leave the office until you have done something. And it will become a habit.

5. Do this with a colleague, friend or family member. Sharing your journey helps to keep you motivated. Checking in with your colleague keeps you accountable to yourself and your colleague.

You will be astounded by what you can accomplish if you stay focused. I think 5 minutes here and 30 minutes there will add up in a way that you can’t imagine. I have written 4 books and two blog posts every week. If years ago someone had told me that I would do this I would have said… “That’s impossible!” I assure you that it is quite possible. Just… Do something every single day!

Yesterday was Independence Day… It marks the middle of the year. We have six months behind us and six months ahead of us… a bit of a track record and the time needed to make adjustments. Have you accomplished half of what you intended for 2012? Are you on track and it’s just a matter of staying focused? OR are you behind schedule and didn’t quite get into the groove you had intended? Here are three tips to make sure your 2012 goals are met.

1. Recommit – Have you lost your commitment? Life happened and took over? Your 2012 goals were what you wanted and needed but you never quite got rolling. If this is you… make the appropriate adjustments and recommit.

2. Refocus – Are your goals the ones you really want to accomplish or do you need to adjust them? Sometimes what we desire at one point isn’t necessarily what we want or need… take a look at your goals for 2012, are they still in the direction you want to go? If not… adjust and refocus.

3. Reward – Most of us have short memories for what we accomplished and long memories for what we did not. We beat ourselves up for the things that didn’t go well… but seldom acknowledge our efforts on the things that did go well. Today: List the things you accomplished and celebrate your success… build on them and reward yourself. 

Do you want 2012 to be your best year ever? Remember best year ever… can be defined in many ways. You wrote more to increase your credibility then you have ever done before. You followed up with your referral sources on a consistent basis… more than ever before. You made business development part of your day… every day. Your book of business grew by… 20%, 40%, 70%… more than any year before. What will you be able to say about your 2012 goals at the end of the next six months? Ensure success… Recommit, Refocus and Reward!