How to Set, Achieve, & Exceed Goals of Pure Excellence

If you’re a positive leader, you know all about setting goals. You’re probably familiar with SMART goals, so this post is not yet another blog about those. Instead, it’s about what I call Goals of Pure Excellence.  And, what better time to focus on these types of goals when so many organizations are embarking on major diversity efforts. Or, maybe you have other dreams you want to make reality—if so, keep reading.

Now, what you know about goal setting is still relevant and related, so let’s review: SMART Goals are Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based. Like positive leadership, goals of pure excellence (GPE) simply take these to a whole new level.

5 Elements to Excellence

According to the experts, there are 5 elements goals need to elevate from SMART to GPE:

  1. They seek not to fix a problem but to positively exceed what has been done before.
  2. They are good in and of themselves – that is, just achieving the goal itself is worthwhile…never mind all the benefits that might come from it.
  3. They are affirmative – meaning they’re centered around the notion of Why Not? Rather than Why?
  4. They are contribution goals, meaning that they benefit others, not just self.
  5. They cultivate and maintain positive energy – that is, merely working on or towards this goal is energizing.

Let’s look at a real life example to illustrate the difference between a typical SMART goal and a Goal of Pure Excellence.

In 2005, Prudential Financial Services set this pretty ambitious goal: “We want to earn $10 million in profits by 2010.”

While this certainly meets the SMART goal criteria, it is not a goal of pure excellence. It’s not inherently good in and of itself, it doesn’t represent a contribution to others, and I’m not so sure it fosters positive energy.

To rise to the level of a GPE, the leaders modified it to read: “We will ensure that 10 million people will have secure retirement by the year 2010.”

Wow-what a difference between these two stated goals, right?

The second version is still SMART, but it also meets the five criteria for a goal of pure excellence:

  1. It’s not fixing a problem. It is setting out to positively exceed what has been done before.
  2. It is good in and of itself. If 10 million people have a secure retirement, that’s amazing.  Yes, Prudential will make a ton of dough, but that’s effectively the secondary benefit here—the goal itself is front-and-center and worthwhile.
  3. Getting 10 million people covered with secure retirement is clearly affirmative.
  4. It’s a contribution goal. Instead of Prudential’s just making $10 million in profits benefiting them, now, they’re going to get 10 million people in secure retirement plans, which focuses on others.
  5. Finally, this goal cultivates and maintains positive energy. If you’re an employee at Prudential,  are you going to be excited to get up in the morning to make your superiors $10 million in profits?  Or are you going to be excited to get up in the morning to help other people get secure retirement plans? That’s a no brainer, right?

Okay, so that’s a great example, but what about you—are you ready to set goals of pure excellence for your organization and yourself?

Yes? Fantastic!

Proceed with patience and compassion, because identifying a goal of pure excellence takes a little time and fine-tuning. You might have to try multiple iterations to make sure it meets the basic SMART goal criteria as well as the 5 criteria for pure excellence, but the results are well worth it.

Once you have defined it, here’s how to achieve your goal of pure excellence:

  1. Break the goal down into multiple steps and actions, so you’re eating the proverbial elephant one bite at a time.
  2. Make it more difficult to fail than succeed by creating accountability support systems. For example, a woman who wanted to lose weight told her supervisor that he should cut her salary by 10% each time she didn’t meet her milestones. Now, that’s some serious incentive to stay on track! How can you create an accountability plan that’s just as effective? 
  3. Focus on WHY you’re doing it and how it will benefit others. If you’re going to succeed at anything in life, you need a darn good reason to persevere. The same is true for goals of pure excellence. Make sure you’re clear on your why before you embark on the journey.

If you want a deeper dive into this discussion, listen to my podcast, How to Set, Achieve, & Exceed Goals of Pure Excellence, or buy Kim Cameron’s book, Practicing Positive Leadership: Tools and techniques that create extraordinary results. He devotes an entire chapter to this topic, what he calls “Everest goals.”

If you’ve got questions or you want to share your goals of pure excellence, drop me a line at [email protected] – I always love to hear from you. Plus, if you want me to address a specific topic in these posts, just let me know.

Also, if you want some simple practices that can increase positivity for you and your team, download my book for free: 25 Tips for Leaders: How to Leverage the Science of Happiness to Increase Performance, Productivity, and Profitability

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