Shift happens – or so they say. A significant shift occurred earlier this year when Tim Houlihan, a vice president at BI WORLDWIDE, a global engagement company, left that position to launch his own consulting business. Tim is a creative thinker and has been a go-to source of ours at Sales & Marketing Management magazine for more than a decade.

Tim’s decision to strike out on his own opened the door for us to nab him as a regular contributor. I’m elated to say his first column on “the mindset of motivation” will appear in our July/August issue. It’s about “temporal construal,” or as Tim explains it, “the way our brains think concretely about the present and vaguely about the future.”

The Clarity of Short-Term Goals

“When sales managers are setting goals with their reps, they are often glib about long-term goals. A long-term goal may have frequent progress updates, but the end measurement won’t happen for a long time – in a place our mind considers abstract. It’s easier for reps to commit to long-term goals that are unrealistic,” he writes.

In the short term, reps are more realistic. The same rep who commits at the beginning of the year to raising sales by 10 percent will explain in detail why a certain sale won’t close that month.

“One solution is to set shorter-term goals,” Houlihan states. “This allows reps to engage more concrete thinking. They’re going to respond more realistically because it’s easier to practically plan for obstacles, challenges and opportunities to take advantage of.”

Big Changes Through Little Steps

I thought of this as I read “The Moonshot Effect” by Lisa Goldman and Kate Purmal. The book is all about the power of reach-for-the-stars endeavors in business. “A moonshot is the antidote to the gravitational pull of day-to-day burdens,” the authors write. “It requires people to discard their business-as-usual habits, and unites them in a collective endeavor to achieve something extraordinary. In the process, the teams and leaders who set out on the mission are transformed through the moonshot effect.”

By definition, moonshots are big hairy goals that take a long time to accomplish. But throughout their book, Goldman and Purmal emphasize the importance of tackling moonshots in smaller chunks – and celebrating the success of each stage. These excerpts from the book make clear that when it comes to succeeding with grand objectives, you must pay attention to the smaller pieces that make up the whole:

  • When working on a moonshot, frequent short meetings keep the project top of mind and maintain a sense of urgency.
  • When seeking a breakthrough, consider launching a scientific experiment and making data-driven decisions. By calling the effort an experiment, you’re framing the outcome, whether positive or negative, as an expected part of a learning process. Even if your first attempt fails, you learn something that may move you closer to a solution.
  • Take the opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate the work when a team has experienced a breakthrough or completed a heroic effort. Even if you didn’t meet a milestone, recognize that fact and relaunch the effort toward a next milestone.Clearly, big successes are a compilation of smaller achievements. That’s something anyone can wrap their head around.

About the Author: Paul Nolan is editor of Sales and Marketing Magazine.

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