In our ward council last month, the ward mission leader gave a short address on the importance of setting achievable goals. He’s new in the calling and in the ward, and because our ward doesn’t baptize much, momentum is somewhat against him.
As a first step toward reversing this, he assigned us to go to our quorums and auxiliaries and set specific goals for each group, which he can then collate into an all-up ward missionary goal for 2012.
The key to baptisms, he told us, is to set achievable goals and work toward them with faith. It’s a quantitative message which I’ve heard in countless missionary-themed meetings, as I’m sure you have too.
I’ve generally rolled my eyes at such talk, but the way I think about goal-setting has changed significantly in the two years since I started working in the ad industry. You might not know it from watching TV commercials, but good ad agencies are experts at setting goals and measuring results.
Our process is a bit different from how a missionary does it. During the strategy stage of setting up a campaign—before we’ve even briefed our Don Drapers—our planners are having deep discussions with the client about their overall brand- and business objectives, and the specific areas where we can help them.
Sometimes it’s a maligned business that wants to shift perceptions. Or it’s a new brand that needs an awareness campaign. Maybe a company wants to build affinity among a very specific, niche audience (those are the campaigns I tend to work on). In every case, we want to set a goal that we can attribute to our work, that we have direct influence on, and that we can accomplish within the campaign budget.
We also want a goal that is ambitious enough that both agency and client must push to achieve it. This is a means of protecting ourselves from ourselves. Clients want to reap huge returns off of small, safe bets; agencies (like all businesses) want to make as much money for as little work as possible. A good goal empowers me to tell the client “We need to take some risks to hit our goal,” which in turn keeps the agency on its toes.
But while we want an ambitious goal, we must be able to achieve whatever goal we set for ourselves. The idea of setting a goal without having full confidence in our ability to achieve it is crazy; if we don’t meet our goals, we get canned.
So once the goal is set, we hold ourselves to it, and we hold the client to it. We create campaigns and ads with the goal in mind, we constantly track and measure our progress, and we endlessly optimize. We are faithful stewards.
Having learned how to properly set cooperative goals, if I had my mission to do over again, my goal-setting process would be a lot different and I’d be more focused on it. The missionary study materials gave direction on how to set goals, but in reality, goal-setting usually consisted of my companion and me looking at each other and trying to guess which number was in the other’s head. Achievability came second, show of faith came first. What if we set a goal of only 7 discussions a week when God wanted us to teach 10??
I think that shows a misunderstanding of the relationship God plays in the work: He is The Client. He called on me to do some of His work for Him, and he expected my best effort. And like any agency-client relationship, it was His product I was “shilling”; and ultimately, He’s more invested in the outcome of my work than I could ever be.
And if I had my mission to do over again, I’d be constantly optimizing my efforts, based on the data. As a missionary in a difficult area of the world, I became accustomed to not meeting the optimistic goals I set for myself. There was some tweaking and optimizing of missionary techniques, but not nearly enough, simply because many of us were made complacent by weeks and months of fruitless struggling.
Losing the expectation of success is a dangerous trap that is easy to fall into, and not just for missionaries. It can also happen to wards that don’t have a lot of missionary successes. In the case of my ward council, we somewhat hesitantly agreed to talk to our quorums and auxiliaries and set an actionable goal that we thought we could achieve in 2012.
Later that day, I talked through a condensed version of the above with the young men of my ward. We talked about why it might be a good idea for us to set something more reasonable than a “conversion” goal. So if we’re not specifically goaling ourselves against a target number of baptisms, what were we aiming for?
“What about getting people into the building to meet us? Bring a friend to a thing,” one of the Teachers suggested.
We mulled it over for a few moments, and the more I mulled the more I liked it. I looked over at the Bishop, who nodded and smiled as well.
“Bring a friend to a thing.” Easy to remember, easy-ish to do.
Five minutes later, we had agreed on a definition for thing (a youth activity, church meeting, service project, seminary, or mutual night—the boys decided that scouts doesn’t count). Two minutes after that, we had set a goal: One friend per month as a quorum, which worked out to one friend per year for each of us.
It felt good, but just a bit daunting, the way goal-setting should. If we can get 12 visitors out to our activities and meetings this year, that will be something to be proud of, and perhaps change our missionary mindset about what our responsibilities are. We’ve already started optimizing to drive results (we’re planning our mutual activities from now on with the specific goal of getting non-members to attend). And we’re fully expecting The Client to take an active role in our new campaign.
On the crawl-walk-run spectrum, it’s definitely a crawling goal. The missionary-age me would say it shows a lack of faith that we’re not putting a hard number on baptisms. The pragmatist in me says that Job No. 1 is to jumpstart our missionary momentum and give ourselves some small successes to celebrate.