The Magic of Written Goals
Astoundingly Simple. Boringly Consistent. Still Magic, Nonetheless! (Part 11)
Winding down one year and starting the next is always an ideal time for reflection and thinking forward.
As a leader, having a robust goal-setting mechanism and consistent follow-through is critical to your overall personal and professional success.
My last article examined the rationale for having written goals.
This month’s article will provide tools and tips to implement the goal-setting process.
There are many sound systems out there, but I’ll stick to the three I’m most familiar with simply because I know they work.
The first is the SMART system. It’s an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. It first emerged in the early ’80s when the CEO of GE, Jack Welch, used it to enhance employee performance and time management while boosting job satisfaction.
In a nutshell, this technique advises creating a specific goal rather than using vague language (for example, swimming three times a week versus simply exercising more). You also want to be sure that your goal is achievable and relevant to your situation. So, make the goal big enough to challenge yourself but not so big that it will likely be out of reach.
In more recent times there’s been the been the addition of an E and an R representing Evaluate and Re- Adjust.
Another system being used successfully by organizations I’m familiar with is the OKR system.
OKR stands for Objectives and Key results. Introduced by investor and stakeholder John Doerr, Google began using OKRs in 1999 when they had just 40 employees. With more than 132,000 employees today, Google still uses the OKR approach to setting goals.
But why does such an innovative company as Google still use the same old approach from more than 20 years ago?
Why didn’t they switch their strategy to setting goals with something more innovative and fancy-sounding?
The answer is simple. When you foster a culture that cares about reaching ambitious goals and gives them a simple approach to achieving them, such as OKRs, they lead to success.
Adding needless complexity to such a smooth and easy-to-follow process may have killed Google’s success.
The beauty of this system is that Objectives define what you’re trying to accomplish, and Key Results measure if you’re succeeding. Objectives are best when they’re qualitative. Key Results are best when they’re quantitative. Moreover, Objectives and key results are applicable at the personal, team, and corporate levels to synthesize and unify efforts toward a common goal.
Placing a reasonable time frame on all of the above makes it easy to see if you’re making progress.
THREE WORD SYSTEM
A third goal-setting system that is a personal favourite is the three-word system.
Simple, but never easy!
It’s a challenge each year to come up with three words representing the year’s strategic directions. But, of course, two isn’t enough, and four’s too many, so three is about right.
There’s nothing weird here. It’s just a way to incorporate a small success habit by bringing consistent intent, focus, and clarity to my decisions and actions in the year to come
That’s why I’ve been taking the time to thoughtfully select three words that will serve as keys to my year. If you’re unfamiliar with this exercise, business writer and consultant Chris Brogan started this in 2006.
A lot of other folks are doing this. Just check out #my3words.
I spend time reflecting on the past year, what’s worked or not, And what was unclear or perhaps missing. But, more importantly, I understand how I want my next year to unfold.
Sometimes the words come out of the goals I have set. Other times I will jot down words that capture my attention and accurately reflect my intention.
I usually discuss my goals and three words with my wife and close friends. That’s always helpful.
It shaped my ideas into something more tangible. It also reaffirmed that we’re in this together, and no matter what goals I have or the words I choose, they are meaningless without mutual support.
I interact with my three words each day. For example, I’ll jot them at the top of my planner page or workout calendar. Doing this keeps them front and centre, pointing me toward my goals and grounding me in the interim work needed to achieve them.
Beyond the ones I mentioned, there are several other goal-setting systems and processes worth exploring, including HARD (Heartfelt, Animated, Required, and Difficult), WOOP (Wish, Obstacle Outcome, Plan) and others that may or may not have a cool acronym.
The point here is to have a system that works for you and your organization.
Six Tips For Getting Started
Reflect on where you’ve been.
As you consider where you want to go next, think about where you’ve been. How have you grown? What have you learned? On the other hand, do you need to let go of any behaviours or relationships to move forward? Keep in mind that we all make mistakes in our lives, but these “mistakes” enable you to grow. They aren’t mistakes as much as platforms for advanced learning.
Where do you want to go next?
Now that you’ve reflected a bit on how you got to where you are, it’s time to think about what comes next. And “next” can mean different things. It may mean simply the next area of your life you want to grow. Or it may be time-based, as in by “next month” or “next year.” So take a moment to add a timeline to your written goal. When do you plan to start implementing it, and for how long?
Write it down. Be specific.
Writing down your goals helps to make them more “real” and allows you to commit to them. Plus, it’s easier to keep track of your goals this way. It’s also important to be specific. For example, saying you want to eat better doesn’t give you a way to measure your results. But, if you say you want to start eating a plant-based diet and then specify steps to take, such as doing “meatless Mondays” each week for a month, you have made your goal specific and measurable. Keep a journal or perhaps a whiteboard at your desk. Simply seeing your goals in writing each day can help to keep you on track.
Divide your goals into categories.
Thinking in terms of categories can help you to examine your life in 360 degrees. First, you can decide on the categories you want to use. For example, consider goals for your life’s physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects. Or, you could be more specific and use categories like health, family, relationships, personal interests and hobbies, spiritual, work, and finance. Next, think about the areas you want to address in your life, and then write one to two goals in each category.
Personally, each year, I reevaluate the areas of my life and hone in on my overall goals— personal, professional, and financial. Then, I make a specific goal for each to be accomplished by the end of that year. Then, every year, I try to advance my goals further, which results in growth over time.
Push yourself a little beyond your comfort zone.
When you set a goal, think big. By placing your goals a little further than your current ability, you will set yourself up to stretch. This may cause a feeling of anxiety. Instead, channel that energy to help propel you forward. Pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone will provide enough challenge to keep you motivated while also being realistic. And if you don’t quite hit your goal, that’s OK. Chances are you still will have grown more than you would have if your goal were less challenging. Surprise yourself!
Get Started and Set Milestones
Once you have all of your goals and tasks and their start and end dates mapped out, you can get started on working toward them. Follow each step you plan for yourself and try your best to stay on track.
The more you do in one direction, the more momentum you gain.
On days when you feel bombarded with work or personal events, push and motivate yourself to follow through with hitting your goals.
It can be helpful to picture how fulfilled and accomplished you’ll feel in the long run once you’ve successfully hit all the goals you’ve set for yourself.
Until next time.
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