How To Set Goals That Actually Work

Back in the day, company leadership would decree their mission and hand down their goals to all their employees. While a few companies still do that, most take another approach. And not because they all of a sudden got woke. Rather, the rapid pace of change has made most leaders uncomfortable with committing to a set of goals. So how do you figure out what’s important to them? Well, all you have to do is follow the money … because if they’re investing in something, it’s probably a priority.

Whatever the company is investing in, you should have a strategy — both for supporting those priorities and for influencing them. Because the more you get to shape the plan, the more aligned it will be with your viewpoint, which is a good thing for you. What if your organization is in such disarray that its leadership can’t see what their goals should be? Well, then, my friend, you have a prime opportunity to help create the future of the organization.

Try these recommendations for putting together your strategic plan for the year:

STEP 1 – Identify the three core areas you are responsible for.These should be expansive enough that anything you do during any given day falls under one or more of these areas.

Your three core areas will probably be pretty consistent year after year, shifting only slightly, and then only after to a major change in your job. This is about taking a massive amount of detail and boiling it down to themes. Remember, this isn’t a list — it’s a grouping of your core responsibilities.

Keeping your core areas broad provides flexibility. Instead of your goals being tied to such things as projects or people, they will be tied to the three things you get paid to provide, regardless of any changes that happen in your business.

STEP 2 – Imagine what success looks like in these three core areas a year from now. Most people build a plan by focusing on putting out the biggest fire in front of them. But that sets us up to be reactive vs. proactive. Instead, build your plan with an eye toward creating positive outcomes in the future, not preventing bad things from happening.

When building your strategic plan, you’ll want to picture what you’d see if you were successful in advancing all three of your core areas. The more details you can imagine, the better. How would the company benefit? How would you benefit? How would people be different this time next year? How would the workplace be different?

This takes some imagination and a childlike view of the world. After all, creating the future requires seeing something that doesn’t yet exist. This type of thinking is best done by a mind that is playful and willing to take risks, not one burdened by a need for guarantees and safety. Allow yourself to be open to possibilities.

STEP 3 – Assess your current reality. Ask yourself, What is the current level of my skills, the organization’s readiness for change, and the available support/resources? This is when you decide what is a priority and what isn’t. Too often we pick priorities based on timetables (What’s the next thing due?) and the proximity of “important” people (If that VP thinks it’s important, then it must be).

You never want to choose a priority based on a deadline. The deadline should always be in service of the priority, not the other way around. Why? Deadlines are made up by people, and they only really matter if they somehow help you create future success for your organization.

Also, way too often, people determine priorities based on others. If the CEO says it’s a priority, then it must be so, right? Wrong. It’s not about blindly following someone, even the CEO. You’ll want to think about what your leadership — aka clients — truly need rather than simply what they want.

STEP 4 – Determine the key actions needed to achieve results. Caution: Don’t turn this step into a detailed project plan. Your key actions simply constitute a reference guide, or map, of where you want to drive your performance throughout the year. But it is helpful to provide some context for what you’ll be busy doing throughout the next 12 months. Your key actions should consist of tangible activities that you can see. They can include how you’ll use key projects, processes, or responsibilities to accomplish your goals. Always remember, you’re not getting paid for how busy you are; you’re getting paid for your results.

Your actions should also include how you plan to collaborate with others. How will you use your work to elevate your skills and those of others across the company?

STEP 5 – Assign an appropriate timeframe. When will you be taking key actions, and when do you expect to see some or all of the results you are looking for? Your timeframe can be a combination of deadlines, frequencies, and milestones.

STEP 6 – Write three to five goals that will guide your performance throughout the year. When writing the goals, use the formula CONTEXT + ACTION + TIMEFRAME = RESULTS.

  • Write a little about the current situation. What are the current challenges or opportunities that you are going to tackle? (CONTEXT)
  • List the one or two core actions you will be taking to solve the context.  (ACTION)
  • Add the dates you are looking to take those actions within. (TIMEFRAME)
  • Clarify the results that would equal success. (RESULTS)

Writing your goals doesn’t have to be difficult. Remember, this is about using intention to determine your performance and priorities. You can do this even if your organization is in the middle of determining their own next steps. If circumstances change, simply modify your goals. More often than not, you’ll be adjusting the context, actions, and timeframe. The results tend to be anchors that remain relevant even when changes occur in the organization. Chances are, they will … and you’ll be ready for them!

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