With the New Year around the corner, many advisory firm owners have started working on their 2019 goals 2019. Before you do that, consider some insights I’ve learned by working with owner advisors on goal setting.

First, owner advisors tend to fall into two camps: those who are driven to grow and improve their businesses, and those who motivate themselves by setting goals.

For many owners, setting goals creates a level of certainty that gives them comfort. They know “exactly” where they want to go and can then focus their energy on getting there.

While many owner advisors have built successful businesses using goals as motivation, I can’t help but wonder how much more successful they would have been had they taken a more open-minded approach.

That brings me to the highly driven owner advisors, who tend to create the most successful firms. I believe their tendency to outperform stems from both the flexibility of just focusing on what to do next and from the removal of the mental pressure created by the “goals” of goal-oriented owners.

Here’s the problem: When we create goals, we create limits and two possibilities — success and failure. These, in turn, create two pressures on firm owners — to succeed and to not fail.

As many people — including business owners — have a deep-seated fear of failure, the fear of not attaining one’s goals can create panic, avoidance, poor decision making and a tendency to set very low goals.

In contrast, business owners who are inherently driven typically don’t suffer from these limitations. Thus, their possibilities are limitless.

I think this is because these advisors tend to have general ideas about what they want to accomplish  rather than specific goals. In the advisory world, these general goals often include the creations of a business that helps people lead happier, more financially secure lives.

This subtle shift in focus — from achieving fixed goals to simply doing something you very much believe in — can make all the difference in the outcome. It’s about finding (and defining) “the real purpose” in what you want to do with your business.

When you do that, you take your off “achieving” and put in on “driving” forward. And psychologically, just deciding what needs to be done next  is a lot easier than trying to attain a highly specific, well-defined goal that may not be right for your practice.

Real Motivation

The second point I’d like to emphasize is that finding the “real purpose” is just as important for motivating employees as it is for firm owners. And, as with owners, some employees are motivated by goals, while others do better when they know “why” they are doing a particular job or daily routine.

An easy way to tell who is motivated by goals and who isn’t is to eliminate such objectives. Some employees will flourish, while others will struggle. Don’t forget to give the strugglers back their goals, until they can learn how to live with the uncertainty of building a business.

A while back , I worked with a large firm with owners who set a goal of reaching $5 billion in assets under management in 10 years. I suggested dropping the timeline.

“Why 10 years?” I asked. When the group did that, its members realized their real goal was simply getting more clients, so they dropped the AUM figure too.  With their new focus, the firm reached over $5 billion in AUM in less than four years.

As we go into 2019 and struggle with growth or other challenges, try this goal for yourself, your firm and your employees: Be the best you can be.

This approach changes behavior and can help your team achieve more than ever. There’s a time for goal setting and a time for simply moving ahead.

Plus, less time spent on defining specific goals means more time for becoming the best you can be. Hopefully, you’ll also find that having no goal equates to having limitless possibilities on what you can achieve — and how many more clients you can serve — in the year ahead.