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All About You: Know the ‘why’ behind your goals

All About You by Richard Hawk

EDITOR’S NOTE: Motivating employees to work safely is part of the safety professional’s job. But who motivates the motivator? In this monthly column, veteran safety pro and professional speaker Richard Hawk offers his entertaining brand of wisdom to inspire safety pros to perform at their best.

When a refueling outage occurred during my years as a full-time safety professional in the nuclear power industry, one of our performance goals was zero lost-time injuries. Two days into the outage, a carpenter fell from a scaffold and broke his back. Thankfully, he recovered from his injury. But sadly, right from the start of the outage, our lost-time goal was ruined. Goals can be like that sometimes – disappointing. They also can be encouraging and a feel-good experience when we achieve them. Either way, they are worth setting.

I set two main types of goals, which I call “Acquire” goals and “Become” goals. Writer and philosopher Elbert Hubbard said, “We work to become, not to acquire.” That’s a wise phrase, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Both acquiring and becoming are an important part of our lives. However, it’s common for people to set many more Acquire goals than Become goals. I encourage you to do the opposite.

“Getting a promotion by 2016.” “Buying a new house.” “Reducing our recordable incident rate by 30 percent this year.” Those are examples of Acquire goals. Examples of Become goals include “Contributing more at our staff meetings” or “Being more patient with my children.”

Often, an overlap exists between the two types of goals. If you want to “become” more observant, it will help you “acquire” the goal of identifying a certain amount of hazards during your inspections. That’s one reason I set more Become goals. Another reason is that, unlike the lost-time injury I described earlier that ruined a goal, Become goals are completely under your control.

I’d like to share with you two things I’ve learned about setting and reaching both types of goals that have helped me succeed in my professional and personal life. I hope they do the same for you.

Include the ‘why’ behind your goals

It’s easy to rattle off a bunch of things we want and qualities we’d like to improve. But getting to the “why” behind your goals is a bit more difficult. Yet it’s an important goal-setting step that is often overlooked – possibly because to do it right, you have to dig down like you do with a root-cause investigation. That’s not always easy.

Q: “Why do you want a promotion?”
A: “To have more impact on our safety culture.”
Q: “Why do you want to have more impact?”
A: “I don’t know – maybe because it feels like I should.”

You may be surprised to find that sometimes you don’t really know why you desire a certain achievement besides a basic want. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pursue it, but it does mean you have some mind-probing to do.

When you clearly know the reasons why you want to reach a goal, it helps you stir up the energy you need to keep at it. If you can’t figure out more than one or two reasons why you want to achieve a goal, put it aside and spend some time thinking about the whys you can’t answer. When I do this, an answer almost always comes to mind.

This process works just as well for Become goals. Several years ago I set the goal of “slowing down my speaking speed” during my talks. At the time I had the habit of talking too quickly. I came up with several whys behind the goal, which helped me stay inspired to work on it regularly. According to my wife, Jackie, who is my toughest critic, I have achieved that goal.

Encourage yourself regularly

For an inspiration boost, set up a routine of looking at your goals regularly, including the whys behind them. To do this, I use a reminder app, keep my goals posted on my office message board and review my goals every Sunday. I’m sure you can set up a goal reminder routine that will work for you too.

Although there will be times when you won’t reach a goal, it’s still worth setting them and doing your best to reach each one because of the many times that you will!

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Richard Hawk helps companies around the world create more vibrant safety cultures by showing them how to make safety fun. As a professional speaker, author and musician, he also inspires employees to focus better and enlightens safety leaders about ways to increase their influence. To learn more about Richard, visit

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