People often ask me this question: how do you set and manage goals? That assumes that I actually do it. I was asked once by a reporter if I had a five year goal. I said, “No”. When he asked why, I suggested he search the five year goals as of 1996 from any company / person on the planet. I offered that if he could find one – just one – five year goal from 1996 that included 9/11/01, then I would start setting five year goals.
Now, it helps to be genetically and emotionally unable to ever be satisfied with the status quo. You can always do better, and you can always improve. At Ursinus College, my alma mater, we called that a nice genetic mutation. Well, not when you realize that it can’t be turned off. Not only does it drive me to better levels of business performance, it also drives me to find the fastest lane on the Bay Bridge, more efficient boarding of a plane, etc..
The easiest way to set goals is to hire people who set their own. Abraham Lincoln once said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend four hours sharpening the ax.” Invest the majority of your time in finding the best people – self-motivated, hungry, passionate, achievers. Tough to find? No kidding. But, better to spend the time finding the best performer than trying to manage the turnover associated with the inferior choices. Then, you don’t set a goal – you illuminate a vision. These employees will drive themselves. They won’t need goals, they’ll need guidance. They won’t need objectives, they’ll need parameters. They won’t need a “kick in the rear”, they’ll need an arm around their shoulders. They won’t need a “Why didn’t you…?”, they’ll need an “I remember when I…”.
I took my Ursinus education to the heart of San Francisco, the technology capital of the world, where I now work. So, in keeping with the tech theme, I’d like to propose building the eponymous “Michael Marcon Potentiometer.” If I were going to tweet a picture of it, it would look like a metal detector. The Potentiometer would eliminate the need for budgets, goals, objectives, three year plans, five year plans, and any other year plans you can think of. Instead, on December 31st, while the bubbly is chilling, each colleague would walk through the potentiometer. It would light up with one of two colors – green or red. Red would signify that the person did not perform to their potential for the past twelve months. Green would mean that the person achieved a level of performance equal to their potential at that time. Obviously (if we can build such a machine, then this should be obvious), as a person matures and gets more experience, the measure of their potential changes.
That would leave me each year with the requirement to set one goal – 100% green. If we achieve 100% green, then we know – without artificial budgets and plans; without goals and objectives that cannot possibly contemplate what the future holds tomorrow, let alone beyond tomorrow – that ourselves, our colleagues, our company (dare I say as well – our country? our world?) is EXACTLY where it is supposed to be.
This idea is just one example of what happens when one is armed with a liberal arts education from Ursinus College.
Michael C. Marcon is the founder of Equity Risk Partners and former chairman of the Ursinus College board of trustees. He tweets from @mcm7464. Tweet him any of your questions about business, leadership or life.