Setting Purposeful and Meaningful Goals

Steve Ellis

Steve Ellis



  1. Performance demands it
  2. Your employee and life experience
  3. Increased engagement and fulfilment in everything you do

New year, new normal, new you! We continually demand reinvention.  This can be destabilising.  Now is the time to create balance by looking at the choices you have, following those choices and committing to them.

I’m not a big believer in work- life balance i.e. splitting your time down the middle.  For me balance its personal; it’s a choice and when it’s a choice it becomes more purposeful and meaningful.

To explain this further there are 2 concepts to bring to life:

1. Every time we say ‘yes’, we are always saying ‘no’ to something else especially where time, budget, energy and resources are concerned. We can’t say yes to staying in and yes to going out at the same time. Where resources are finite we have to make choices.

Have you ever said ‘yes’ and regretted it?  I have.  What I noticed is that when I said ‘yes’ it was probably to fulfil someone else’s goals at the cost of fulfilling my own. This is okay until it becomes a pattern and causes me to feel ‘out of balance’.

2. The story about frogs in boiling water.

Question: What happens to a frog if you place it in boiling water?

Answer: It jumps out. 

Question: What happens to a frog if you put it in cool water and then slowly heat it up 1 degree at a time? 

Answer: It dies. Why? The frog doesn’t notice the change in temperature until it’s too late. 

Humans and organisations are like this.  We don’t notice when we get caught up in patterns of living our lives.  Sometimes to justify that pattern we use language like ‘I always have’, ‘I have to (work late, do this/ that)’.

We often lose sight of the choices we have to design a life rather than be designed by life.

This has consequences to our engagement with the things we do.  We watch TV and yet we are bored by it; we work late but resent it; we do the same job or lose market share but resist change. 

The key is following a life direction through choice rather than a habitual pattern.  Balance is choice.  If you really choose and want to work 14hrs per day it feels ok, you’re engaged, it’s in balance.  If you do it because you always do and ‘have no choice’, then it is out of balance.

So setting up purposeful and meaningful goals starts with an audit!

Step 1 – An audit of your current satisfaction in various areas of your life.

Now score the level of satisfaction on a scale of 1-10 where 10 is high and 1 is low.  Note the word ‘satisfaction’ rather than result.  You may be fully satisfied being single.  It’s not whether you have a partner but whether you’re satisfied in that area of your life.

  1. Loving Relationships – This includes family, extended family, kids, partner.
  2. Social Life – This includes friends and social activities, meals out, meals in, playing games, sports with other people.
  3. Hobbies and Activities – Reading, exercise, gaming, watching the TV! (Maybe split the time here between Loving relationships and hobbies and activities!)
  4. Career/ Work – This includes working at home after/ before ‘work’
  5. Personal development – Any personal growth agenda, study, learning a new skill
  6. Finances – Are you happy with the current state of your personal cash flow, balance sheet of assets and liabilities.
  7. Health and Energy – Both mental and physical health, consider nutrition, sleep, exercise and management of stress etc.

Step 2– Now take a look at the time, energy and resources you put into these things.

Assuming you spend 500 hours per month (after sleep) keep a record of where you spend your time.  Be brutally honest.

When we feel out of balance, unfulfilled or disengaged, there tends to be a mismatch between levels of satisfaction and the habitual patterns of how we spend our time.

Step 3 – Identify the areas in your life where you wish for greater satisfaction and where you need to invest more time, energy and resources.

What we have just done is find and focus on what matters to you.  What you value.  Meaningful goals are based on the achievements that are congruent with our values

Now we have a direction for our purposeful goals! We are designing a life ‘on purpose’.  There is a ‘why’ for you.

The same principle is true for business goals.

What’s important to the business? 

Finance, revenue, profit, asset utilisation, inclusion, clients satisfaction, sustainability, resilience, Corporate and social responsibility? 

How much time, energy, budget does it invest in each of these areas?  How satisfied is the business in each of these areas?  What changes does it wish to make? 

Once the business knows the answers to these questions it has the template for establishing purposeful and meaningful change goals. In essence like our own personal vision the business has it’s organisational vision and mission.

Once we have the direction we need to make the goals inspiring, compelling and clear.

This means going beyond the outcome description of ‘earn more money’ or ‘have a better relationship’. 

Describe a vision of having achieved the goals:

What will people say (family, clients, friends, stakeholders)?

What will they see? 

What will they feel? 

Go beyond the number. 

Describe what achieving the goal will do for you?

What is your reason.  This is crucial.  I am reminded of the quote “profit is a little like oxygen.  Without it we die but it’s not the reason we exist’. We all need a reason. Leaders need to articulate the compelling reason for its different stakeholders.  What’s the point of arriving at that destination described in the vision.

In essence what is the direct and indirect result of achieving the goal on you, the community, colleagues, family, society.  The reason provides the fuel and fulfilment.

Describe what it means in tangible actionable terms

Once we have the vision and the reason leaders need to break it down into meaningful digestible actions.  Essentially answer the question ‘specifically what does that mean I need to do differently on a daily basis?’ This will provide confidence, milestone, measures and a sense of control in the achievement of the goals.

The power of purpose and meaningful goals.

Goals are useful but what happens to human beings when they achieve the goal is both the motivation and a significant part of the outcome.  Hence why so many people talk about the ‘journey’.

Who you become as a result of the goal is more important than the goal itself.

Along the way we are likely to run into setbacks, challenges and failure.  Without purpose and meaning these can be enough for us to give up, slow down and fall into a pattern where we feel we don’t have choices anymore.  Purpose drives commitment.  Commitment is doing what you said you would do even when the emotion with which you said it has gone.  We all have excitement and this can be replaced by tiredness on any given day but if you want it enough, if it means something, if it is your purpose then you will persevere.  This can be applied to any goal – loving relationships, social life, hobbies, health, work.

Recent research by the Edelman Trust and Deloitte has highlighted an increased disillusionment with capitalism and business.  Indeed Deloitte surveyed 18,000 Gen Z, Millennials and found that only 41 and 43% felt business was a force for good. 

It becomes an imperative that businesses engage their teams not just with goals but with purposeful goals. 

The Edelman Trust also highlighted that employees believe that their organisation is more likely to solve problems than Governments, NGO’s or the media.  This essentially mans that employees believe world issues like climate change, sustainability, diversity, wealth inequality and food provision is more likely to be solved by business than governments.  The caveat here however is that their research pointed to competence rather than ethics as the driver for this.

Now more than ever is the chance for big business to connect its commercial goals with sociological goals.  To provide meaning and purpose beyond shareholder value and towards stakeholders of the community.  Do this now and they will illustrate competence and improve ethics whilst accelerating performance, engagement and the experience their teams have whilst at work.

Organisational goals and personal goals are the same.  They are more powerful when they are aligned to the values of those achieving them.  They have meaning.

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