The RIGHT Way to Set Annual Goals

Once you know the annual cycles of the people and organizations around you, and have made the most of those insights, you want to set goals for the new year.

(If you missed my post with the first two Tips, you can read it here.)

Tip #3: Set Annual Goals that are Consistent with 3 - 5 year goals

It is quite common for people to set New Year’s resolutions. I encourage you to take a few hours to set some goals for the new year. However, what most people don’t do enough of is thinking through their goals over longer time horizons.

That is a short-sighted mistake.

Make sure your 2014 goals are in ALIGNMENT with your longer term goals -- especially if you’re aware of your long term goals.

If you really don’t know what your long term goals are yet (very common, especially for CIBs early in their careers), set a DISCOVERY based goal. Make it a goal to try out, learn about or gain exposure to 3 - 5 potential career fields. If figuring out what you want or like is too challenging, at least set a goal to figure out what you do not like.

This too is progress. The key is once you figure out what you do not like, try to explicitly define why that’s the case. Is it too people intensive? Or is it not people intensive enough? Is it too analytical to enjoy? Is it too creative and intuitive, given your personality?

Once you know WHY you do not like something, it gives you a set of rules that you can use to filter out many more career options without nearly as much effort. Through a process of elimination, this can very quickly narrow down the field of what career options might potentially be a good long term fit for you.

If you have a competitive advantage, make sure your 2014 plans take advantage of that advantage. It’s my firm conviction that corporate strategies that do not exploit competitive advantages often are not sustainable for very long.

I think the same applies to career strategies. If your next career move doesn’t exploit some kind of advantage that you possess, then you have to ask yourself: How sustainable will that next decision be?

But what if you don’t have a competitive advantage, or it is small? Again this is quite common for those early in their careers. In those cases, make it a goal in this next year to build up and deepen whatever tiny competitive advantage you might possess.

The two companies that do this best are Apple and Amazon. I prefer using the Amazon example because it’s both easier to teach from and easier to replicate for the average person. CEO Jeff Bezos is brilliant at parlaying one competitive advantage into another for Amazon.

Some of you may not recall when Amazon first started, but I very much do. They were the first website to literally offer 1 million books on sale via the web. Within 12 months, they had 3,000 competitors that basically were an exact replica of Amazon.

(In fact, within 5 years, you could replicate the entire Amazon 1.0 website for $99. I know this because in 2003 I actually built a web-based bookstore with 1 million books for sale, via the industry wholesaler Ingram, for $99.)

Bezos took a “first mover” advantage, and turned it into a “brand” advantage. Then he took that brand advantage and turned it into a “financial” advantage via an IPO. He then took the superior financial capital advantage (the IPO proceeds) and promptly spent nearly $1 Billion and built 6 distribution centers. This gave him an “infrastructure” advantage.

These distribution centers were deliberately and strategically placed so that Amazon could ship its goods to any zip code within the mainland United States within 2 days by truck. This gave Amazon a “shipping cost” advantage, and a “delivery time” advantage.

Amazon could ship both faster, cheaper and more reliably than 100% of its competitors. He then turned this into free shipping for orders over $25. Then he built a membership program called Amazon Prime that offered free 2-day shipping on nearly all orders. This gave Amazon a “membership” advantage.

Bezos then layered in another 1 - 2 dozen competitive advantages on top of the ones I just mentioned. Seriously, Amazon is one of THE most impressive companies when it comes to building what I call the “competitive advantage sandwich” -- that contains layers upon layers of competitive advantages.

It all started with ONE slight advantage -- first mover advantage. To his credit, Bezos realized Amazon was exposed and the early advantage would get withered away by the competition within months or at best a year or two.

By his actions, you can clearly see that by the time Bezos’ competitors catch up to where Amazon is today, Amazon will be somewhere else entirely (in terms of competitive advantages).


You want to be thinking in terms of layers of competitive advantages. Add a new one every 1 - 2 years. Be deliberate about what advantage you want to add next to your “sandwich.”

If you have a small competitive advantage in terms of having good interpersonal skills, take the small advantage, use it to network and meet others, and develop your network and make your network a competitive advantage.

See my video interview with Porter Gale, author of Your Network is Your Net Worth -- I credit her with completely changing my attitude towards networking. I used to think of it as slimy and icky, now I see it as a useful career strategy that I can do in a very particular way that I feel very comfortable with.

If you have a small advantage in terms of being smart, analytical or insightful, but are held back by not coming across as confident in expressing those ideas to others, make it a goal to improve how you project self confidence.

See my video interview with Roger Love, the celebrity voice coach to Al Pacino, Angelina Jolie, Tony Robbins, and numerous grammy and oscar winners. Together we deconstruct the components of self confidence (Roger’s role) and apply it to consulting (my role).

By the way, expanding my network and improving my public speaking voice were both deliberate and conscious decisions on my part in previous years to improve my career skills and competitive advantages. Both Porter and Roger are people I know and have worked with to help me improve in those areas. I am passing along what I’ve learned from them to you.

One of my favorite questions to ask my dentist is this: “Who is YOUR dentist?” I know that I play the role of teacher to you and others, and if you were to ask me who MY teachers are, Porter and Roger are two of them. They are both world class in their respective areas of expertise.

I hope you enjoy the free videos above. Each is about an hour (though very worth it). Just be sure to take notes.

(Funny thing is these interviews were very hard for me to do, because I was learning so much from my guests that I desperately wanted to take notes instead of focusing on being a good host. By the way, there are worse things in life than spending time with people where you really need to take notes every time you’re around them.)

Alright, I’m off to work on my own career planning for next year. Like the cobbler with worn out shoes, I often work on my own career and strategic plans very late -- only after I’m done with my clients' and students' plans.

Additional Resources

If you found this post useful, I suggest becoming a registered member (it's free) to get access to the materials I used to pass 60 out of 61 case interviews, land 7 job offers, and end up working at McKinsey.

Members get access to 6 hours of video tutorials on case interviews, the actual frameworks I used to pass my interviews, and over 500 articles on case interviews.

To get access to these free resources, just fill out the form below:

First Name *
Email *

This form collects your name and email so that we can send you login information for the free materials you requested. If you check the Yes button we also will add you to our email list. Check out our Privacy Policy below for details on how we protect and manage your submitted data.

Read Our Privacy Policy

1 comment… add one
  • Chris Kelly Jan 5, 2014, 6:14 pm


    I think that Bezos would disagree with you and argue that being a first mover, developing a brand and his IPO are the result, not the source of his real competitive advantage which is (as he would tell you) is a relentless, customer-centric mentality.

    The fact that he came weeks or months before 3000 other companies did is relatively insignificant compared to his relentless drive and commitment to serve his customers. He started the company because he knew they could be served better. His brand, like anybody else’s was established through his actions and by consistently, over time acting in his customer best interest. And thirdly, his IPO and “financial advantage” was the result of their loyalty for the business that they earned. Lot’s of companies IPO including many bookstores that were well ahead of him which he swiftly put out of business by serving his customers better than they did.

    As part of his customer-first mentality Bezos always acts with a long term view which means that he has the discipline to differ gratification, trading short term financial performance for long term competitive advantages where his competition would not be able or willing to do. Of all the lessons we can take from him his customer-centric mentality (from the operator perspective) and long term financial outlook (from the investor perspective) are the most important to keep at the front of our minds in 2014 and beyond.

Leave a Comment