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Eye on Goals

“Expectations are the root of all heartache.” –Shakespeare

“Blessed is the man who expects nothing for he shall never be disappointed.” –Alexander Pope

“We need to challenge the soft bigotry of low expectaions.” –President George W. Bush

New Year’s is synonymous with setting goals, either in the terms of resolutions as it relates to personal improvement or, in many instances, planning at businesses. Since I clearly I have a lot to improve on personally, combined with fact that I’m Captaining our Macro business, the last week or two, along with of course enjoying my Mom’s fine cooking, has given me some time to contemplate goal setting – both specifically and more in the abstract.

There have been a number of studies done on the success of New Year’s resolutions. In general, the studies show that more than half of adult American’s make New Year’s resolution and only 10% of those resolutions are ever kept. In fact, many are broken within four or five weeks.

Just as Keith likes to call the market because people say it cannot be done, I’ve decided to make New Year’s Resolutions this year, simply because the odds are overwhelming against me. So I’d like to publicly establish my physical fitness goals for 2009. They are as follows: to run a half marathon by June 30, 2009, to complete a sprint distance triathlon by September 30, 2009, and to lose 10 pounds through the course of the year. I also have a number of personal and professional goals, which I won’t delve into, but these are the core of my fitness related goals.

From the very outset, I have a higher chance to succeed than most goal setters. First, I’ve publicly declared my goals, which creates a level of accountability. Second, I have quantified the goals by both dates and objectives. Finally, I’ve set reasonable, though not easy goals. Admittedly I could probably run a half marathon today, or so my 110 pound former Dartmouth cross country star running partner believes (thought undoubtedly she thinks these distances are easier than they are), but the reality is, I never have, so in my mind this is a reasonable goal.

Keith and I have been exchanging emails over the weekend about specific goals for the Macro business at Research Edge. Now for those of our clients and colleagues who have known Keith for as long as I have, you all probably know that at times he likes to, as we say in hockey terms, “chirp.” On the ice he would “chirp” opposing players and the referees and off the ice, as hockey captain, he would “chirp” our teammates who were unfocused or not living up to their potential.

Now that he is CEO, and we are no longer college hockey teammates, I don’t think we can call it chirping anymore, but rather a proactive management process. I sent Keith my goals for Macro for 2009 and his response to me was: “If you think you have the process in place to over-deliver on these, I’m comfortable with you putting them on the tape. I only want beatable expectations, and then, like you said, you drive a higher ante after these bars are cleared.” Keith’s point is not that I should set low ball goals, but rather I should establish goals that if the team works hard and executes, they can beat.

By any measure, 2008 was a successful year for Research Edge. Less than a year ago, the Company was a whiteboard in Keith’s living room. The Company now has over 25 employees, three offices, a client base that is in the hundreds (representing some of the top money managers around the world), and a revenue growth rate that would be the envy of any start-up.

That all said, I think Keith, Brian, and Michael, who are the founding Partners, probably would admit that they missed their “expectations” for 2008. Does that mean the Company failed? Of course not, we actually had an incredibly successful year, but what it does mean is that setting goals, particularly in a business that has no real comparables, can be incredibly difficult. I think that’s why Keith always cites the aforementioned Shakespearean quote. He genuinely thinks the only people that can beat us is ourselves.

After reviewing a large amount of literature relating to goal setting, it is clear that there are a number of key steps to enhancing the success rate of achieving goals.

First, set goals that are specific. Just as I did in my personal physical goals above, establish goals that you can quantify (number of new clients, growth in same store sales, etc) and that have a date attached to them. Within this framework, the goals are measurable and you can determine when and if the goals are achieved and whether they need to be adjusted.

Second, establish a plan to achieve the goals. Behind every specific goal there should be a plan with a reasonable timeframe to achieve that goal. As an example, in a sales organization, assuming you have the relevant data on close rates, the plan to increase sales could be largely driven by expanding reach, so making more sales calls. Ultimately, as the sales moves through the sales funnel, these sales calls will result in a closed deals.

Finally, make sure that your goals have reasonable expectations attached to them. The three quotes at the outset of the note were actually part of a discussion I was having with a friend that related to the importance of managing expectations. In both personal and business goal setting, this is probably the most important point. You need a goal that is both achievable, but also requires you to work hard to achieve it.

Since I started this note by quoting the first and third most quoted writers in the English language, Shakespeare and Pope, and a President who many believe doesn’t have a great handle on the English language, I will end by quoting the second most quoted writer in the English language, Tennyson: “While I plan, and plan, my hair Is gray before I know it.” Planning time is over. By now, your goals should be established and 2009 should be a year of exceeding all expectations. Good luck out there.

Daryl G. Jones
Managing Director