Most people have a goal at sometime or other. Children have a goal; to go to school, to do well at school, to do well at sport, to leave school, to get a job. Adults have goals; to get a better paying job, a more fulfilling job, to buy a car, to buy a house. From time-to-time though having attained a goal, people do not have a goal worth fighting for.

Sometimes people think they have a goal, but in reality they do not. They think, perhaps their goal at work is to finish the days work, no matter how many hours they work. Or they think that their goal is to get that better job no matter what the sacrifice their family makes. At home they may think the goal is to have “perfect” children, because that will make them “perfect” parents.

These false goals cloud their thinking, not allowing them to plan their lives to attain a goal they really want.

People without a goal meander. They spend the period of their life without a goal never quite reaching anywhere before they change direction again. People with false goals also meander, as achieving the false goal gives them no satisfaction.

A technique which I have used with my subordinates and my family and in quiet moments with myself, have helped many people determine what their real goal is.

The first part is the retirement speech. This works well in a work environment, but also works well in a family environment.

Ask your friend, colleague or subordinate to think for a moment about their work, what they are doing now and what they think they might like to do. Then ask them to fast forward to their retirement function. Ask them to prepare a speech describing what they have done, what they are proud of and what their regrets were. Ask them to state, prior to making the speech, who is in attendance at this invitation only event.

I have found this to be very powerful in getting people to think clearly about work and what it means to them.

Some people have been very clear about having had a stellar career. For example, one golf course maintenance supervisor had been involved at first in managing golf courses overseas and then moved on to helping design and construct golf courses.

Equally, some people have wondered about the work side altogether, valuing the relationships much more than they ever valued the recognition and rewards.

The next part in this technique is to move forward from retirement to a time when the person is approaching death. The death approaching is without pain, but certain within the next few hours. The person has gathered around them the people they want to be there. The number of people may be none or it may be many, it is for the person to reflect on and decide. Ask your friend, colleague or subordinate to think about what they would like to say on their deathbed and to whom they would like to say it.

The deathbed soliloquy is very powerful. It is more powerful with older than younger people, but I have found that with anyone over the age of about twenty-five is strongly affected.

In many cases there have been tears as people finally realise what is important to them. It often strikes a deep chord with those struggling with work-life balance.

A woman employed by a client had an epiphany upon completion of this exercise. Her stated goal of being successful at her job was not the goal she really wanted to achieve. Looking after her children and husband was her number one goal and a good job was only the means by which she could get the money required to “look after” her husband and children as she wanted. She left her job to take up a less stressful and less time demanding job. Whilst the new job paid less, it met the minimum requirements of her new goal.

A good friend of mine who was my subordinate at the time realised that the most important thing for him was to get a good education with the potential for tertiary education for his daughters.

The realisation that his daughters’ future was the most important goal he had, changed his view about leaving his country to take up a job overseas. Quite simply, taking the job overseas gave him access to company support to educate his daughters in schools which were much more likely to give them an education which set up his daughters’ future. In addition, they would get access to tertiary education opportunities far and above what they could in their own country. This was a big change from wanting, above all, to be promoted to my job when I left.

The retirement speech gets people to focus on what is important to them in terms of career. It may be technical respect, it may be personal respect or it may be just getting the “top job”.

The deathbed soliloquy gets people to put work into balance with the rest of their life. Completed after the retirement speech, it puts work into perspective. Work may remain front and centre. Most people get much of their self esteem from work. Some people only get their self esteem from work.

After each speech, get the other people involved, which may be only you, to give feedback to the speech maker on what the speech seemed to indicate about them and what is important to them. Keep the conversation going until there is clarity about what is most important. Whatever that turns out to be is their goal.

Ask the person what steps they think need to be taken to achieve their goal. Distil the steps which may be actions or outcomes initially, until there are a concrete set of initial steps.

Completed in small private groups I have found this exercise to be very powerful as a team building exercise. Coupled with an emotional intelligence assessment it not only allows people to determine clearly what their goal is but to also focus on what personal skills they need to build to achieve their goal.


To hear an interview on BTalk on where Kevin talks about using this ‘deathbed soliloquy’ technique to set goals that are meangingful to employees as well as being beneficial to the organisation, click here: Goals From Your Deathbed