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What Real Winners Do in Business that Others Don’t

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getting angel investorsWhen the World Series or the Super Bowl rolls around, there’s usually a reliable way to pick the winners: The guys who say “I’m just glad to be here,” aren’t going to be the ones wearing the championship rings when the game is over. They achieved their goal before the game began.

What’s really more important, goal-setting or goal-getting?

A teen-ager will mow lawns all summer in order to buy the jalopy that he is certain will impress Mary Anne. The real lesson – learning solid work habits – is easily lost if Mary Anne is not impressed.

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We all know companies that were household names, the bluest of the blue chips, that are fading memories today. W.T. Grant. Woolworth. Zenith. Studebaker. Montgomery Wards. Every salesperson knows an ace who was on top of the sales charts for years and all of a sudden lost his stroke. He didn’t go from first to second, he went all the way to the bottom.

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In each of these cases, the goal was the same, to get on top. But once they got there, they started to lose their way.

They lost the hunger, the ability to innovate, to listen to their customers, to adopt to change, to be humble.

They had achieved their goals. Now was the time to reap the rewards. About 20 years ago, a fellow named Parkinson, wrote a series of books in which he cleverly framed his observations into “Parkinson’s Laws.” Most are just as valid today, because these rules of human nature are timeless. One was, and yes, I’m paraphrasing a bit, “Whenever a company proudly announces the establishment of their beautiful, new, modern, efficient corporate headquarters, you can be sure they’re heading downhill.”

Why? Because instead of focusing on their business, the company’s managers are focusing on themselves. Messy desks, cramped quarters, unlovely surroundings are the physical manifestations of people too busy getting the work done to care much about their own creature comforts.

The greatest danger to a business is not risk. It’s lack of risk: complacency. As success piles upon success, the goal changes. Number 1? We are number 1. Roll out the red carpet. Get that door, will you? And where’s my driver?

Look back at that list of corporate casualties and you won’t see Wal-Mart. It didn’t matter how much money Sam Walton made, he still drove a beat-up pick-up truck. Instead of hanging around a plush office, he got out and walked the floor of his stores and his competitors’ stores. His people were well aware of his habits. The Walton-lifestyle is ingrained into the Wal-Mart culture.

Dave Thomas, the founder of Wendy’s, was never so wrapped up in enjoying material things that he lost his desire to get the education denied him by his impoverished childhood. At 60 he went back to high school and got his GED. He attended the prom with his wife and they were crowned Prom King and Prom Queen. His fellow students voted him “Most Likely to Succeed.” Not all of today’s high schoolers are in the dark about goal-setting.

What’s your goal? Whatever it is, I suggest you commit it to writing and keep it on your desk where you’ll see it every day. At least quarterly, give yourself a report card. If you ever achieve your goal, be like Curt Carlson, the billionaire founder of the Carlson Companies, the parent of the Radisson Hotels.

As a young soap salesman, Curt used to set yearly sales goals for himself, write them down and stick them in his wallet. About halfway through the year, when he reached his annual target, Curt would tear up the slip of paper, toss it, and set another goal.

Curt has the reputation of being a tough boss. There’s a reason: he’s never quite satisfied with himself.

Curt knows the answer to the question I posed earlier: It’s not goal-getting that matters. It’s goal setting. You never want to reach your goal.

credit: Harvey Mackay
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