There are obvious reasons why we don’t follow through with our start-of-the-year ambitions and even better, there are proven ways to make those ambitions happen. If you want to move the needle significantly in 2018 then read on…
I don’t know about you, but as I go through the month of December, my mind starts to move into next-year mode and I’m thinking about what I want to achieve in the new year. I’m sure I’m not the only one given all the content you can see, listen to, and read about new year goals. Now, there are good ways and bad ways to set things up for the new year, and if you feel like you haven’t achieved your goals in the past then you really don’t need me to spend time telling you about the bad ways…
When it comes to the good ways, there’s 5 steps that I use every time I want to define goals, whether that’s at the beginning of the year, or actually anytime I want to define new goals. Those 5 steps are:
1. Speak with the people that matter
If you live on a desert island, then you can skip this one, but otherwise, there’s a 98% chance your goals will impact the people around you. This could be in the office, with changes impacting your team, other departments or the overall performance of the company. This could also be at home, impacting your significant other, your kids (if you have any), your extended family, your friends and so on… In the workplace, you can therefore start by speaking with your key stakeholders about a few things.
First, you want to understand their priorities. You could be speaking to your CEO or General Manager about the business priorities. You can also talk to your boss to understand his priorities and of course you can speak with other departments to understand where they’re heading.
There’s a few benefits to doing that. The first one is for you to ensure there’s a healthy level of alignment between your priorities and those of the rest of the organization. You can also inquire about their struggles and how you can alleviate some of them by setting the right objectives for the year. Alternatively, you can help them understand why you won’t be able to help them on some of their struggles if you have conflicting priorities for the year. Next, you can test your ideas with them, as for an external opinion and provide you with a different perspective which can only improve your plan and last discuss with them how your plans might affect their world. For example, positive changes for your team could adversely impact other departments, that’s your opportunity to uncover such risks.
So, sit down for 30 minutes with each one of them, come prepared with a set of questions on the above subjects and leave each meeting with a detailed account of your conversation so that once you sit down to work on your plan, you have all the facts with you.
2. Be specific about your goals
There’s a technique called the 5 Ws, that you can use to make your ambitions much more concrete. To be ambitious is one thing, but to move from daydreaming to planning and to execution you need to turn those ambitions into plans. To do that there are 5 things you need to be clear about and they all start with a W.
You first need to define what you want to achieve. It’s the title of your objective such as implement an ERP, reduce customer churn by 25%, increase revenue by 15%. There are a million ways to set a good what but here you don’t need to worry about it, we have 4 other W to help us define further our plan.
Why should you care? And actually, why should anyone care about this objective or this ambition? This is a question we often fail to ask ourselves. We jot down objectives but fail to ask ourselves why it matters? Why should anyone care?
This is your opportunity to assess the need for this ambition. Are you just carrying over some of your objectives from one year to the other because it’s part of your routine? There’s some level of routine in every job, even CEO jobs, but the key here is to re-assess every time every single objective that you are pursuing to make sure they still make sense and have a place on your priority list.
Who is the owner of that objective? It could be you, but you could also be responsible to achievements you’re not going to complete directly. If you depend on people in your team or your organization to complete some of your goals, you can still have them on your radar here. The who question will allow you to determine who is the ultimate owner for that objective, who will be held accountable for the progress, failure or success.
You then need to define a deadline or a timeframe, so knowing when to complete your objectives by is an important step. Here we’re discussing the coming year ambitions but some of them might have to be completed early in the year to enable other ones, or you could be planning another type of plan and need to define when to complete a project by. There’s no need to set a specific date here, you can simply set your deadline to compete at the end of a month or quarter. It’s usually more relevant and easier to remember to complete something by end of May than on the 31st of May.
And last there’s the where question. This one is not always relevant but sometimes it is. Sometimes there’s a geographical attribute to what we do, it could be an event you’re organizing, or it could be related to online vs. offline activities, you can really be flexible with the notion of where to make it fit your environment. The point here is to add specificity and to make it more concrete.
3. Make your goals realistic… then add some!
There’s a fine line between an achievable goal that you are motivated about and a goal that’s just plain crazy and that the better part of your brain knows to put aside without even asking for your opinion. When your goals are unachievable, there’s no way to build the motivation to go after them. I know everyone says you need to shoot for the stars but usually shooting for the stars is a multistep process. You can claim that this year you’re going to become number one in the market or earn 7 figures but if you’re not in a place to make it happen in 12 months or less, then you’ll probably never get started.
On the other hand, you can aim at something that’s realistic given your starting point. So, the first thing you can do, is to determine a target that you believe is realistic. But that’s only the first step. You see, there’s a general tendency to aim low when we want to be realistic, the reason being that we build our realistic plans based on the things that we know.
The things that we know will usually represent only a small portion of what will really happen and by accounting only for the elements that we know, we end up setting very low targets. What we don’t know yet, is that those actions that we are going to take initially will generate opportunities we couldn’t plan for and those will generally get us farther than we thought possible.
If you want your target to be both realistic and a challenge, you then need to add something to your realistic view. To do that you simply, there’s a simple way: add 50% to your realistic target. There’s no easy, simple way to account for what you don’t know, so instead of trying to do so, just increase your realistic view by 50% and you should be about right.
4. Make success part of your plan
Your motivation and ultimately your ability to stick to your plan is directly dependent on how you view your progress. In other words, if you can get early wins, you’ll automatically build your confidence and will increase exponentially your ability to achieve your goals.
If your success is only about achieving your plan, then success is not part of your plan, it’s what happens once your plan has been achieved. That means you need to pull through, based on shear willpower and be successful once your goals have been achieved. To achieve your goals you need to make success part of your plan, to build it in. To do that there are 2 things you can do.
A succession of mini-goals
First you need to break down each goal that you have into a succession of activities, each of which is an opportunity to build early success. Each of those activities should be achievable so that you can conquer them one by one. Each activity you complete is a mini-goal you achieved and a success you need to recognize and the more you’ll complete activities and the bigger your success will be. You therefore need to not only break down your goals into a succession of mini-goals, but you also need to celebrate each of those mini-achievements to truly register that something positive has happened. Those early successes will move you forward in a measurable way and will build your confidence along the way, increasing therefore your motivation to pull through.
Gamify your plan
Second, you need to plan to reward yourself for getting to certain milestones within your plan. Not necessarily for every mini-achievement but often enough that you reward yourself regularly. For example, if there’s something you need to do every day, like a chore, you can plan to reward yourself for doing it for a number of days in a row. It’s a way to gamify your advancement. For example, you could find a small reward for doing it 7 days in a row, then a better reward for 15 days, and an even better one for 30 days. You determine from the beginning what the reward will be so that you can look forward to it and remember along the way that something concrete is waiting for you, just around the corner. If your goal for example is to read one book per week, you could set to buy an E-reader such as a Kindle after reading 5 books. That’s a good example of rewarding yourself by improving the tools you use. But you could just as well treat yourself with a night out, food you like or anything you really fancy. It’s not about the cost of the reward but about the pleasure you’ll get from it and therefore the motivation you’ll get from working towards it.
5. Start now!
Once your plan for the year is ready, make a plan for this month. Even if it’s the 20th of the month, you can still prepare mini-goals that can be achieved in 10 days. A plan is just as good as the actions you take to make it happen so the planning process can be a successful one if you complete it by defining your action plan for the month you’re in.
Take each of your goals and identify what needs to happen this month to be on track to complete it by the deadline you set and list the actions you need to take this month to attain that goal.
Then every month (or more often if it makes sense) take a couple of hours to review your accomplishments, what you’ve done and what needs to be pushed into the next month. The point is not to be judgmental about your advancement but just to better plan the next period and if things need to be changed, if goals need to evolve, just do it. Those are your goals, they need to serve your purpose and therefore they’re yours to adjust.
Also, here’s a very interesting video about goal setting and on a subject I’m not touching on in this article which is about the difference between strategic goals and task oriented goals. It’s part of the “Leading Yourself” course by Lisa Earle McLeod and Elizabeth McLeod. Check it out…
What’s your take on goal setting? what are your biggest struggles? Or even better, what do you do that I’m not discussing here that’s making your planning awesome? Looking forward to reading your comments…