Why Goal-Setting Alone is a Pointless Exercise

 I was talking to a dentist at the end of last year, and he was whining to me that despite all failure-successhis goal-setting efforts, his practice didn’t grow at all, and in fact production was off 4% from the previous year.

I asked him about his process and he told me, “I did what everyone says to do.  I made  my goals very specific and I wrote them down.”

“That’s good,” I said. “That’s key.”

“And then, every day I would take them out and read them,” he continued. “Out loud.”


“And nothing changed.  In fact, things got worse. The whole process was pointless.”

“But what did you do to achieve those goals?”

“I told you. I read them every day.  Out loud.”

I had to agree with him.  It was pointless, because he skipped the most important part of goal setting, which is you then have to DO something to achieve those goals.  Usually every day.  And perhaps even more important, DO SOMETHING DIFFERENT.

A goal without a plan is a wish.

Just as a dream without a strategy is a daydream.  It’s important — critical, even — to set goals and write them down.  But then you have to decide what the steps are to achieve them, and commit to doing those steps every day.  And if you don’t know what the steps are, then you need to get help to figure out what those steps are.

Another dentist I encountered two years ago was very down about how the economy in his area had affected his practice, and asked what I thought he should do.  I gave him a copy of my book, and suggested he read it and if it resonated with him to get his team members to also read it.  I ran into him again earlier this year and he proudly told me that his practice was up 50% from two years ago, and attributed it to what he learned in the book.

But it wasn’t because he read my book.  It was because he decided to ACT on what he had learned in the book. He realized if he wanted different results he needed to do something different.  You don’t have to use my book, but most often you need to get outside yourself to figure out what to do differently. Get a coach, or take a course, or both.

Our world is in constant flux.  Communication is changing — try leaving a voicemail and getting a response. Technology is changing — would you buy a car today without Bluetooth?  And consumer behavior is changing — you can deposit checks with your phone, ask a hundred strangers what they think of a restaurant, and have Amazon deliver your groceries. And thinking that you can keep doing the same things you’ve always done in the face of these changes is a recipe for extinction.

So when we set goals, we often plan to put greater effort into doing the same thing, instead of trying something different, or learning a new approach.  But very often a different approach yields exponentially better results.  For example, you can spend five minutes trying to explain the decay issue with the old amalgam on a patient’s #2, with no success.  Or you can show them on your monitor using an intraoral camera and they’ll accept treatment instantly. (A 3M study showed we respond 60,000 times faster to visual information than text.)

Or you can try to place implants using traditional radiography, and hope you get the angle and depth right, or you can use a Galileos and know exactly which implant to use and how to place it, and even create a drill guide so you can practically do it blindfolded.

The answers are everywhere.  Upgrade your website, ask for Yelp reviews, get a friendlier receptionist, or redo your reception area.  Have evening hours.  Stop wearing Hawaiian shirts (unless you practice in Hawaii).  Or get CEREC. If you think that one visit versus two is not a huge consumer benefit, you are deluded about how much fun it is to be treated by you.

Goals are pointless without a plan to execute.  And as you execute, be sure to pick one thing, get it done, make it part of the fabric of your practice, and then go on to the next change. Trying 20 changes all at once is another recipe for failure.  But make a plan to reach your goals, decide what you’re going to do differently, and then take daily action. Otherwise, this year will be just like last year.  Or maybe a little worse.

Throughout this year, I’m committed to finding great ideas and practical solutions for you, so that you can reach your goals even faster.   Happy 2015!

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11 thoughts on “Why Goal-Setting Alone is a Pointless Exercise

  1. Well done Fred. I agree with Wayne – spot on as usual. You hit on two very important issues. Success is hard work. Goals, vision boards, positive thinking, affirmations and the secret doesn’t get the work done – people do. The second pearl in the power of focus and mastery. Commit to one thing until you own it, then move on to the next. “The One Thing” by Gary Keller is a great book on this subject. Thanks for all you do.

  2. Hi Fred! LOVE your blog! I’m an office manager for an amazing dentist in NJ and reading your book and blog has taught me many things I’ve been able to institute in my current and former practices. Thanks so much and keep all of the great inof coming my way!

  3. Your article is right on! Action is what converts goals into reality.The whole point of making goals is so that you can work backwards to create a plan to go from point A to point B. I will have to check out that book suggested in the comment above, The One Thing, sounds like an interesting read.

    • There are several teachers that can help you improve your communication and case presentation skills. I suggest getting a coach like Fortune Management to help you.

I welcome your comments--don't pull any punches!