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Improve Your Building Career? Improve Your Goals.

Improve Your Building Career?  Improve Your Goals
By William Ronco, Ph.D., Copyright Ó 2022  
2 Observations
Working with thousands of design and construction professionals over the past 25+ years, two things about goals are clear:

  • You don’t have to have goals to simply earn a paycheck.  There’s enough activity, good people and productive organizations to keep you busy and employed. 
  • Effective goal planning generates big rewards.  If you take the time and effort to set and achieve goals, you’ll have a much more interesting and financially successful career.

2 Questions
Matthew Brett, a Project Manager in Massachusetts General Hospital’s Planning and Construction Department, has developed a noticeable expertise in setting and achieving goals.  He comments, “Every major thing I’ve achieved in all aspects of my life began with goals.”
  • What is it about Matt Brett’s use of goals that enables him to endorse them so strongly?
  • Why aren’t building leaders more effective using goal planning for personal and professional issues? 
As a veteran consultant, author, and former professor, I’m especially interested in answering these questions because of the irony I see with my building leader clients.  Although they use goal planning extensively and skillfully in their daily tasks, their effectiveness using goals for personal and professional growth often falls short.
2 Starting Points
Let’s begin with examining just how much Matt has achieved through implementing his use of goals planning.  On a professional level he won a leader awards while working at Turner Construction, he was hired as an Owners Project Manager at a young age and developed his own properties. On a personal level he recently climbed Yosemite Park’s Half Dome, demonstrating his commitment of taking ample time to achieve work / life balance.
Next, we need to recognize just how much building leaders use goal planning on the job.  After all, every project requires that every player on the design and construction team fully understand, accurately track, efficiently revise, update, clarify and work to achieve complex, demanding immediate goals.  Shouldn’t it follow that outside work, building leaders would naturally be world-class performers when it comes to setting and achieving their personal and long-term professional goals?
2 Shortfalls
It’s not that the building leaders I work with fail at using goal planning outside work.  Most of them regularly, effectively use goal planning to improve their fitness, health and finances.  It’s more that, given their extensive use of those immediate goals at work, their personal and long-term professional goal planning seems to fall short.
Specifically, building leaders’ shortfalls using goals seem to occur in two different ways: 
  • Over-emphasizing goal setting but neglecting follow through
  • Over-emphasizing goal follow through but neglecting goal setting   
Over-Emphasizing Goal Setting but Neglecting Follow Through
“I finally decided to lose those 10 – ok, 20 - pounds.”
“I set a goal for the new year – joined a gym and everything.”
“This will be the year I read some of those interesting books I keep hearing about.”
You hear a lot of similar statements every January, and there’s nothing wrong with them.  The problem is more about what they omit than what they say.  They seldom include any specific actions on how they will achieve their goals.  
You know this is one of your own shortfalls if you:
  • Talk more about your decision to set the goal and less about how you’ll achieve it
  • Somehow forget that you’ve set this goal many times in the past and failed to achieve it
  • Make it sound as if, now that you’ve set the goal, your work is finished
Over Emphasizing Follow Through but Neglecting Goal Setting  
I learned about this shortfall firsthand towards the end of my graduate school work when I carefully planned an affordable camping vacation in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  When I discussed my meticulous plans with friends, they gave me a shock that continues to stay with me. 
One friend asked, “Did you ever look into flying to Europe instead?”  I replied that though much more interesting than my plan, European travel was far beyond my meager means.  After a brief silence, a different friend asked if I had seen the recent ads for a $99 Boston – Paris airfare.  Stunned, I excused myself, phoned in my flight reservation and returned to thank the group.  Later that night, I tore up my camping plans and began detailing the new adventure!  
I believe building leaders are especially prone to this kind of goals shortfall for the same 3 reasons I neglected to see the travel ads in the newspaper:
  1. Action bias.  After working so hard, I was especially eager to do something that involved action and not research or writing
  2. Excessive focus.  Once I started thinking about the stateside trip, I went into “planning mode” and narrowed my thinking to little else
  3. Past success. The “planning mode” that hijacked my thinking was the same disciplined thinking/acting process that got me through grad school
Effective Goals Require Both Thoughtful Goal-Setting and Persistent Follow Through
Matt Brett’s approach to using goals includes both thoughtful goal-setting and persistent effort to achieve the goal.  To achieve goals Matt believes, “You climb a mountain one step at a time.  With any goal, you have to make a daily commitment to small steps.  You can’t think about your goals once in a while, you need that daily check-in.  You don’t have to make significant progress every day – it really helps to get some satisfaction out of small steps every day.”
For setting goals, Matt cites the book that his father bought him when he was starting out, The Magic of Thinking Big.  “Too often, Matt points out, “people make the mistake of setting their own goals too small.” 
I echo that sentiment and also strongly suggest that you take ample time to formulate goals that genuinely energize you before committing to them.  In your eagerness to do something, taking time to reflect and introspect may seem that you’re not accomplishing anything.  However, finally clarifying a goal that you really care about can have far greater value for you than accomplishing a dozen goals that don’t much interest you.  
2 Bonuses
Matt Brett also points out two important bonuses that come from both Thinking Big and working persistently to achieve goals:
  • Momentum.  Matt comments, “Once you get going, achieving a goal tends to perpetuate and strengthen itself.”
  • Discovery.  “When you achieve a goal, you get to places where you can see whole new possibilities you didn’t know about before you started.” 
2 Recommendations
From what I’ve observed in my work with hundreds of building leader clients, I recommend two strategies for improving goal achievement:
  • Approach your personal and professional goals with at least as much thought and effort as you give your project goals.
  • Give equal thought and effort to setting your goals as you do to working to achieve them
2 References
Two books my building leader clients find especially useful for achieving goals are:  
2 Next Steps
This blog post should be enough to get you started thinking about how to improve your effectiveness with goal planning.  Taking two more steps will help even more:
  1. Start using your new goals insights to set and work with your own goals, both at work and at home
  2. Look for Part 2 of this blog, when we’ll provide a detailed worksheet for using Lanny Bassham’s ideas.
A Note From Bill Ronco
If you have comments and suggestions about this blog post, or would like to subscribe – email me at  Also, check out our web site for other resources useful for building leaders – architects, contractors, engineers, owner/clients and interested others.