The big end-of-the-year push is on, and we are bombarded with advice on setting goals for 2013.  Do goals pay off?  Do they get us where we want to be?

Some research shows that goal setting results in greater profitability.  However, countervailing data show that in pursuit of goals, critical variables fall by the way.     


“Instead of identifying goals, consider identifying areas of focus,” says writer Peter Bregman in his December 14, 2012, Harvard Business Review post on the HBR Blog Network.  He contends that are not all they are cracked up to be.  Instead, they cause a “number of side effects that suggest you may be better off without them.”

For example, goals that are specific in time and measures are more likely to go awry.  Risks include:

  • Working too quickly
  • Overlooking important workplace factors such as culture and motivation
  • Encouraging unethical behavior

Instead, it is suggested that we identify areas of focus“A goal is a result; an area of focus is a path . . . the goal specifies where you’re going and the area of focus describes how you plan to get there.”  The author contends that by identifying the things you want to spend your time doing, you will do them, you will do them well, and the rest will take care of itself. 


Flexibility is a critical ingredient in law firm management, particularly now as firms are forced to shift quickly to adjust to ever-changing marketplace and regulatory events. 

In the face of these uncertainties, setting precise, to-the-number goals may be counterproductive.  Whereas, focusing on the “how to” in areas of strategic significance gives you a path to get to your goals

Whatever your focus — serving clients more intimately, building loyalty, growing bench strength in key practice areas, expanding/contracting geographic footprint, increasing revenue by decreasing costs, etc., — the “how to” helps lawyers feel ownership, work with increased precision and align with firm culture. 

Action steps:

√   Identify realistic and achievable areas of focus
   Create a blueprint for each to get you there
√   Develop measures that include workplace factors