Leadership

How setting 'non-goals' like Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg can help you achieve success

We start each year laser focused on the goals we set for ourselves, yet research shows that about 80 percent of people fail to reach them.

But Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has a different approach to goal-setting, which can help you succeed. She calls them non-goals, or secondary goals employees should focus on only after the main goal has been met.

In order to achieve these "non-goals," Facebook's leaders "talk a lot about ruthlessly prioritizing," Sandberg tells LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman in an interview for his podcast, Masters of Scale. Despite overseeing a 20,658-person company, Sandberg says doing this is vital because Facebook has only "so many resources."

Sandberg has championed this rule of "ruthless prioritization" for years now, going back to a conference in 2011.

She poses a common situation: Say you have three really great ideas, but you can only do two. Which one do you settle on not doing?

"You have your goals and non-goals," Sandberg says."The non-goal is the next thing that you would do, because it's a really good idea."

Separating the good ideas from the bad ideas is easy, Sandberg says, and is commonly mistaken for how you can get your priorities straight. What's tougher is actually narrowing down the good ideas you plan to take action on, she adds. That's where non-goals can help, she says.

A prime example: Facebook's advertising business. Sandberg had been at Google for seven years, developing its successful online advertising program, before she was brought on to Facebook to help it scale globally and develop its advertising network.

Sandberg tells Hoffman that for a long time, Facebook's non-goal for advertising was that ad network, which most recently earned the company $9.16 billion in the second quarter of 2017.

"It was a good idea," Sandberg says, but before Facebook could get to the ad network it "had to build [its] own ad systems and targeting and measurement systems first."

A non-goal can still be a great idea, Sandberg notes, adding: "It set a floor for what we were going to invest in that everyone could understand, and it made it theirs."

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