Why Traditional Goal Setting Doesn’t Work

It’s mid January and many of you set New Year’s Resolutions or goals for the coming year. How many have already given up or failed on at least one of your goals?

There are several factors that cause bright people to fail at goal setting and ultimately follow through with their goals, even though they were set with the best of intentions.

Here are my top 4 reasons for goal failure:

  1. Many don’t know how to set goals effectively
  1. The time horizon (12 months) is too long
  1. You set too many goals
  1. You don’t measure your progress consistently 

Let’s unpack these and explore a better way to get you to goal achievement


Many don’t know how to set goals effectively.
When I speak to groups about goals and tactics two things happen; their heads nod in agreement (“Yeah I should do this”) and at the same time their eyes glaze over because they’ve heard this mantra forever. Some even get visibly anxious as they’ve set goals before and experienced failure. “Why would I want to do this again?” Let’s start with a simple definition.

What exactly is a goal? Put simply, a goal is a desired future state; an OUTCOME that we desire. Since it’s a “future state” or “Outcome” can you actually manage a goal? NO! The only thing you can control, or manage, are the ACTIONS you consistently take that give you the best opportunity to achieve the outcome you desire.

Begin by changing the vernacular; instead of Goals and Tactics, develop OUTCOMES and ACTIONS. This simple change engages the conscious and subconscious mind and brings extreme clarity to what you want,  and the steps needed get you there. Think about this:

What is your #1 OUTCOME you want to achieve, by when, and what are the top 4 – 6 ACTIONS you need to take to give yourself the opportunity to achieve your desired outcome?

Once you’ve defined the appropriate Action Steps, calendarize your actions as time blocks and view that time as valuable as you would any other important appointment.

The time horizon (12 months) is too long!

We’ve been conditioned to plan for 12 month cycles because that worked in the past and that’s what we’re used to. But, can we really predict what will happen in 12 months? We’ve just lived through an extreme example in 2020 with the pandemic and most were caught off guard as businesses were shuttered and plans were upended. Companies were scrambling to adjust their plans due to the chaos and uncertainty that ensued and their best laid plans were upended.

Instead, consider 12 Week Planning and get used to working in a 90 day world. Brian Moran and Mike Lennington wrote an exceptional book, The 12 Week Year (which I heartily endorse) that makes a strong case for 12 week planning. One of their main concerns with annual planning was the ‘illusion of time.” What does that actually mean?

If you start the year and miss your numbers in January, most of us think, no worries, I’ve got 11 more months to meet or exceed my plan. End of Q1 we’ve missed our number again; no worries, I’ve got three more quarters. And so on it goes until we run out of time and finally succumb to the fact that your expectations will not be met.

Gino Wickman, in his best selling book, Traction, encourages operating in a 90 day world. In fact, 90 day world thinking is an integral part of the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS). Why? Because it works

Ninety day planning just makes sense. It eliminates the “illusion of time,” it’s more focused and more predictable. It also gives you the opportunity to course correct, if need be, and adjust on the fly. It’s also a wonderful way for anyone to set a goal (Outcome) and see it through. Want to get better at goal achievement? Begin with setting 90 day goals.

You set too many goals.

People traditionally set too many goals and often confuse a Goal (Outcome) with an Action, and write them as goals.  

In sessions with my clients we start with ONE business goal, expressed as an OUTCOME, and ONE personal goal. We then create the critical ACTION Steps needed to meet their desired outcome.

As Brian and Mike say in The 12 Week Year, “Less is More!” If you have three business goals and one personal goal and 4 – 6 actions per goal, you would have upwards of 24 actions that need consistent execution and attention! This can quickly lead to burnout and frustration. So yes, “Less is Definitely More”!

You don’t measure your progress consistently.

Most people write their goals and simply commit them to memory; they don’t measure their progress on a consistent basis. Measurement is simply a feedback loop and without it, your goal becomes more of a wish than an actual goal!

We recommend weekly measurement of the items you can control. If one of your actions was to “make 10 prospecting calls per week,” did you do it? If 10 was your goal, and you made 9, you didn’t do what you wrote as a critical action step to achieve your desired outcome!

In 2021 one of our clients, using 12 week planning, exceeded their annual revenue target by 105%, in an ultra competitive business, even with a resurgence of COVID. Yes they are very talented but they also learned that effective 12 week planning gave them a competitive edge.

At Kellen James, we are 12 Week Certified, and can teach you how to employ 12 week planning in your organization. We can teach you how to get more done in 12 weeks than most companies achieve in 12 months. If you’d like more information on 12 week planning or implementing 12 week planning in your organization, we’d be delighted to have a discussion. 

Here’s to a successful 2022!



Jim O’Hara is a veteran executive and former agency firm owner. He is President of Kellen James – Performance Advisors, an Advisory and Diagnostics consultancy that assists organizations to hire more accurately, lead more effectively and get results more efficiently. Connect with Jim on LinkedIn or email him at jim@kellenjames.com














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