Goals Can Be Overrated

February 8, 2021 5 min read

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Lynn Guerin and Jason Lavin’s Coach ‘Em Way Up: 5 Lessons for Leading the Way, is out now from Entrepreneur Press. Purchase it via Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound | Bookshop | Entrepreneur Press

It’s the first quarter of the year. The C-levels are meeting, and there’s an elephant in the room: “It’s already February. We need to set goals for 2021. Let’s look at last year’s goals. Did we meet them? Did we stick to them? Does everyone in this room even remember them? Do our employees know what they were, and did everyone buy in?”

If the answer is no to one or several (or all) of these questions, you’re not alone. The good news is, goals can be overrated. As James Clear says in his bestselling book, Atomic Habits, “Forget about goals. Focus on systems instead.” After all, if every ’s goal is to win the championship, then certainly the goal is not what differentiated the winner.

Related: 8 Keys to Coach John Wooden’s Servant Leadership

Enter Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success

No one knew the above better than John R. Wooden, the greatest coach of all time. Coach Wooden won more NCAA basketball championships than any other coach in history (an unfathomable 10 in 12 years), but never had the goal of winning them. Instead, he focused on the day-to-day behaviors and system that would yield such an outcome. He called this system the Pyramid of Success.

The Pyramid of Success highlights 25 behaviors that everyone in your company can agree to and work on daily. Add Coach’s system to your day, week, month and year, and watch out — results will come. Here’s how to get started.

Focus on values and behaviors

Rather than aligning your organization around goals, align with your organization’s core values. Then lay out daily, agreed-to behaviors that will allow your team to live by them.

For example, at my company, GoldenComm, we decided upon six core values: service, business acumen, grit, technical ability, transparency and hard work. Daily team activities point to each of these core values and are part of every employee’s annual peer review. 

For instance, for our core value of “service,” daily activities include:

  • Motivating and inspiring others with enthusiasm
  • Looking for ways to help others
  • Sharing knowledge
  • Knowing how to disagree without being disagreeable
  • Making customers (and teammates) feel like you’re on their side

By not focusing on the goal (such as a revenue goal or customer service metric), you can see how employees have something they can strive for, and hit, every day. 

“Make every day your masterpiece.” –  Coach Wooden Maxim

Can you see how this might produce better results than quarterly or annual goals alone?

Tie these values and behaviors into your peer-review system

At GoldenComm, every employee gets at least one peer review each year. The process is simple: The employee is asked to identify three people who would be good evaluators of the employee’s work behavior. looks at these three people and chooses at least two of them (or sometimes all three of them) to perform the peer review. We then add another person (or two) to make a total of four. The review is anonymous, so all the employee knows is that at least two of the four peers are people he or she actually chose. 

The employee’s peers rank each of the agreed-to behaviors on a scale of 1 (below average) to 5 (the standard or benchmark to be equaled). The employee ranks themselves on the same agreed-to behaviors using the same scale.

We tally the peer scores and compare them to the self-scores. This valuable feedback loop gives us a jumping-off point on what the employee is doing well and where there’s room to improve. It also gives employees the opportunity to see if the perception of their behavior fits with reality or at least reality in the eyes of their teammates.

The bottom line

Yes, goals are good for direction. Goals are relevant and worth posting to show where the company is headed. But when it comes to every employee in your company and what to work on every day, turn to Coach Wooden’s wisdom: “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”

Related: Coach John Wooden’s 6 Ways to Rethink Change 

Jason Lavin is a coach, speaker and CEO with more than 25 years of experience enhancing the performance of individuals, teams and organizations. As president of The John R. Wooden Course and CEO of Golden Communications, Lavin helps organizations — from youth sports teams to Fortune 100 companies — refine their values, mission and vision. Learn more at CoachEmWayUp.com.

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