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Workplace: Employees grow by setting hard goals

By Vickie Elmer
Monday, January 3, 2011; 22

Mark Murphy, chief executive and founder of Leadership IQ, is finishing up two weeks of company-wide goal setting. Murphy's team at the District-based management training company has decided to launch a new leadership test on its Web site this spring and add more content in "bite-size chunks" and video snippets.

In identifying goals, Murphy urges his employees and senior managers to dig deep and go beyond traditional corporate goal setting. He asks them to consider goals that feel rewarding to them as well as to Leadership IQ. He wants them to be passionate about the goals and to learn from them. Then he helps his staff achieve them.

Encouraging managers and executives to take workers' goals seriously is one of the crusades in his new book, "Hard Goals: The Secret to Getting From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be."

"We need to treat our employees and their goals like we'd treat the CEO's goals," said Murphy, who's worked with chief executives in goal-setting retreats. Goals, he added, need to be heartfelt, animated, required and difficult -- hence, the "Hard" in his book title. "They have to be a little messy. They have to be emotionally connected to them."

He'd like to see companies get away from goal-setting software and fill-in-the-blank forms in favor of conversations, questions and introspection. Managers should ask, "Why do you want this goal?" and "How are you going to grow from this goal? What will you learn?"

"We don't have to duck those conversations," said Murphy.

He tells of an ongoing conversation with a Leadership IQ consultant about her goals. She thought she wanted to become a senior executive, perhaps chief operating officer. So Murphy asked her why. She told him some business school colleagues were at or near that level -- for him, a warning sign that the goal may not be coming from within. And she said she wanted a job that would give her a greater opportunity to have an impact on clients and to track their results.

Then, Murphy explained that a COO job would take her into administrative roles, the opposite of what she sought. In later conversations, they discussed her passion for clients, and what kinds of results she could envision. He asked her to consider the skills that would be required and how she would go about developing them while maintaining her workload.

She has recommitted herself to a consulting career, yet her duties have grown from working with one client at a time to creating and managing monthly online forums and peer-to-peer client visits, both of which are big hits and play to her hopes for herself.

A client conference is on tap for 2012. "The initial client reviews are great and it's both a new revenue source for us and great value-add for our clients. She's happy, they're happy and I'm happy," said Murphy.

Murphy said he prefers the research and idea generation parts of running Leadership IQ, which offers online learning for managers and in-house leadership development training. The company employs 36 people in three offices. He's less fond of budgeting and all the travel to see clients. A few years ago, he set a goal of learning to delegate better. Afterward, the company grew more -- revenue is up 50 percent in the last two years. Delegation opened up time for him to write four books including "Hard Goals" and explore new ideas -- and for more dinners at home with his wife and three children.

The book gives several examples related to losing weight and looking good in jeans again. Those were included to broaden its appeal, but they also came from Murphy, 39. He targeted a tough goal and then lost 30 pounds before, during and after writing the book. That weight loss sets up his personal goal for 2011: to run another marathon, even though he acknowledges he has his "zero natural running ability." This time he wants to do it from a "better, stronger, fitter place" so it isn't quite so gut wrenching.

It also works with his notion that people need to work toward goals that do not always play to their strengths. Yes, they're more difficult, but they are valuable for self-discovery, discipline and thinking things through. "It's an incredibly character-discovering exercise," he said.

Here are five tips from Mark Murphy and his new book, "Hard Goals":

1. Build goals into the organization's fabric and make sure they drive the whole organization to the right markers.

2. Anticipate distractions or slowdowns and create processes to refocus energy and attention on goals.

3. Create difficult goals, especially those that require learning. "If we're learning and challenging ourselves, our brains will be wide awake and our performance will rise to the level of the challenge," he said.

4. Think of goals as tools that encourage greatness in your workers. "We need to create situations where they achieve and reach their potential."

5. Identify a friend who will call you regularly to ask you a few questions about your goal and the progress you're making.

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