Don’t Move the Goalpost

 In Managing Your Team, Managing Yourself

During sports season, my Monday mornings at work always include staff’s enthusiastic recaps of the weekend games. While I’m more of a fair-weather fan than a sports fanatic, these conversations have made me notice and appreciate the way that sports language has crossed over into the business context.

“Moving the goalpost” is one of my favorite crossover terms. In sports, it describes the perceived lack of fairness that results when the goal location is changed after the play is underway. One team gets an intentional advantage or disadvantage.

One of the biggest wastes of time for everyone  is a poorly thought-out request.

In business, “moving the goalpost” usually involves a manager and an employee. The manager sets a goal for the employee but then changes or adds to the goal before the employee meets even the initial goal. This makes it difficult for the employee to succeed.

When the goalpost is moved, the employee gets the unspoken message that their efforts are not good enough or will never be good enough.

Some managers knowingly move the goalpost, but most don’t realize they are doing it, and they certainly don’t see that they are setting their employees up for failure.

Effective Communication

Effective communication is the foundation for all relationships — business and personal. As a manager, you must make clear, complete requests. As an employee, you must do your part to speak up and ask questions for clarity.

What about when we, as individuals, move the goalpost on ourselves?

Don’t we do that, too? We even need effective communication within ourselves.

Whether you are a manager, employee, or just managing your own personal goals, it’s hard to succeed when the target keeps moving. Let’s take a closer look at how goalposts get moved and what to do about it!

Power Challenge 1: Think Before You Ask

We’re all in a hurry! There are only so many hours in the day, and we are just trying to make the most of them. As we try to be efficient, sometimes we do just the opposite. One of the biggest wastes of time at work — for everyone involved — is a poorly thought-out request.

For example, let’s say you are sitting in a morning sales meeting. During a lull, you lean over to quickly ask Carol, your employee, to prepare data and an internal report for a client meeting you’ll have later in the week.

Late that afternoon, you’re thinking about that same client meeting, and you zap a quick email to Carol to say you thought of a few more things for her to include.

What you don’t realize is Carol was just finishing up the task as you first requested it. With your new email, she re-works the report, staying after hours to finish it… only to find yet another email from you the next day, asking for more research items to put in the report!

A Waste of a Day

The result? Carol wasted almost an entire day working on a request that you kept changing mid-stream. She is frustrated and just a bit angry — and rightly so.

The first step is to be clear in what you are asking.

Instead of asking Carol for the report while you were distracted during the meeting, you could have given her a “heads up” that you needed assistance and would be sending details later that day. This way she would have known it was coming and could have scheduled time in her day to meet your request.

Then, in the quiet of your office, you could have fully thought through exactly what you wanted to accomplish at the client meeting — including all the information and materials you would need to meet that goal. At that point you would have been ready to make your request. This would have saved her time and eliminated unnecessary frustration.

The first step is to be clear in what you are asking; take the time to think about what you want. Then, check back periodically to see how things are going and provide more direction as needed.

Power Thought:

When you are the person making “an ask,” it is your responsibility to provide a well-thought-out request.

Power Challenge 2: Know What’s Being Asked of You

On the other hand, have you ever been like “Carol” above, the victim of having your goalpost moved by someone else? Have you ever been frustrated with someone who asks you to do something, and before you can even get it done, they call and change their mind about what they want you to do? Or they say, “Thanks, but this isn’t what I wanted. What I really wanted was…” Or how about when the request isn’t clear, and you make the wrong assumptions?

Don’t Just Sit There; Say Something

Here’s what you can do. The next time this person — let’s call her Gina — asks you for something, have her repeat the request. Often, the act of restating will help Gina realize she hasn’t fully thought out what she needs. She may do a better job defining her request the second time around.

As well, ask questions for clarifying the request:

  • Would you mind going over that one more time?
  • Sorry, could I ask you to tell me that (piece of information) again?
  • Could you clarify what you meant by (challenging word)?
  • Just a second, could I get a little more clarification on (X topic)? I just want to be sure I understood.
  • Could you be more specific?

It’s also useful to repeat Gina’s request back to her before the end of the conversation. And, when you don’t understand a request, it’s okay to say so. You can say, “I didn’t quite catch that,” or “I didn’t get that.” This shows you are listening.

Finally, it’s always good to recap with an email, whether the request was made in person, by e-mail, text or phone. Your email should include:

  • An acknowledgement of the request
  • A summary of the deliverables detailed
  • A timeline for delivering

Remember, sometimes people do not express their ideas clearly, or they ramble, so it’s always good to confirm.

Power Thought

Get it right the first time!

Power Challenge 3: Solidly Plant Your Own Goalposts

How often do we not take the time to enjoy our own successes? We work hard to meet a goal, but we then don’t take even a minute to say “good job,” or pat ourselves on the back.

Instead, we immediately expand our original goal to include the next thing on our list. We think it’s too early to celebrate, too early to say we’re done. We tell ourselves to do just this one more thing, and then we’ll have met our goal. It’s endless!

We Just Plow Ahead

We lose out on savoring a sense of accomplishment; we miss taking a moment just to breathe. We don’t allow ourselves that freedom. We just plow ahead — adding things, checking things off, and then adding more things to our ever-growing list of to-do’s.

Power Thought

We are victims of moving our own goalposts. We avoid kicking the ball over and declaring success.

I used to be incredibly guilty of moving my own goalposts. I kept pushing my definition of success. My goalpost started with going to college. Then it expanded to getting a job. Then a better job. Then on to buying a house, having kids (not just one, but four), starting a business, growing the business… and on and on, with a million little things in between.

My goals were good goals! Nothing wrong with them at all. The problem was that I lumped them all together instead of regarding them as multiple goals. I kept moving my goalpost.

The Real Truth

I couldn’t admit success. I told myself, “If I just do this next big thing, THEN I’ll be successful.” The truth is that success isn’t just one thing. It’s made up of a lot of little, big and not-so-big successes. Not understanding that, I caused myself a lot of stress and anxiety.

Power Thought

Success isn’t just one thing. It’s made up of a lot of little, big, and not-so-big successes.

Stop to Celebrate

What about you? Do you take the time to celebrate your accomplishments? Or are you continually pushing your own goalpost?

Take this challenge: The next time you set a goal for yourself, include a new step — the final step. Define how you will celebrate when you meet your goal.

What reward will you give yourself? A trip? A day or two off work? Some time for catching up on a good book or TV series?  Why not something like a weekend (or two) of ignoring emails, spending time with family and friends and trying out some new restaurants?

Remember, you must truly appreciate where you have been in order to appreciate where you are going. Goalposts are set in concrete because they aren’t meant to be moved.

Need a speaker for a business event or training?

Carla inspires leaders and team members — and provides real-world tips to become the best version of themselves that they can be. Contact her today.

Recent Posts
Image Transform Fear Into Action