If at first you don’t succeed…try a learning goal

If at first you don’t succeed…try a learning goal

If at first you don’t succeed…try a learning goal Failing to hit your goals? It might not be your motivation; it could be that you’ve set the wrong kind of goal.

Mark Murphy, founder of Leadership IQ told Forbes that typically, there are two types of goals; performance goals and learning goals – and understanding the difference can mean the difference between success and failure.

“Performance goals are those goals that focus on getting a desired end result. If you are a professional runner and you want to run a really fast mile, you might set a performance goal to break a four-minute mile,” he said.

“It’s got a specific and measurable outcome that you’ll either hit or miss. A goal like this makes a lot of sense for a professional runner, but it’s utterly absurd for a novice or someone like me, whose best mile is more like eight minutes. If I set a performance goal to break a four-minute mile, I will fail over and over again.”

However, this is where learning goals come into play.

“Instead of focusing on some end result, learning goals focus on acquiring knowledge or skill. For example, maybe I set a goal to learn three new exercises that will strengthen my legs. Or perhaps I set a goal to lengthen my running stride or increase my steps per minute,” Murphy said.

“These learning goals focus on learning effective ways to do something. As a runner, I’m not skilled or knowledgeable enough to set a performance goal of breaking a four-minute mile. So for right now, I’m much better served by setting goals that require me to learn how to be a better runner. Once I’ve acquired that knowledge or skill, then I can start to think about setting a performance goal.”

He said that while it may be tempting to set easy goals, hard goals generate better performance.
“Good ambitious people want goals that will help them stretch and grow. The study called ‘Are SMART Goals Dumb?’ showed that people actually respond better to difficult goals than to goals that are too achievable or too realistic,” he pointed out.

“But even the most ambitious people need the time and opportunity to develop the required skills. Imagine, for instance, that you have never played the piano, and I sit you down and put the sheet music for Beethoven’s Für Elise in front of you and say ‘play’.”

Murphy said that the natural human inclination “is to basically flub it”.

“You stare at the music for a few minutes; try to pick out some notes, maybe if you can read music you even attempt to cobble out a few phrases,” he said.

“But your technique stinks and you don’t get the right fingerings. Your work is sloppy, and even the greatest attitude in the world combined with the most heartfelt desire to succeed, isn’t going to change that outcome until you devote some time to learning how to play the piano.”

He added that there’s a big difference between learning goals and performance goals.

“Performance goals are those goals that focus on getting a desired end result, like wanting someone to play Für Elise. It’s not overly challenging work if you know what you are doing. But when you have no clue what you’re doing it can feel like trying to achieve the impossible,” Murphy said.

“By contrast, a learning goal is a goal where you’re less concerned with employees producing results and far more focused on having them learn the necessary fundamentals [so eventually playing Für Elise is something they can actually do].”

The preceding article was originally published on our sister site Learning & Development.