One of the concepts I am working on lately is improving my positive impact on others by rethinking the goal-setting process for myself and teams. I have regularly struggled with goals, but believe they are an important construct that can help me make a difference. Sadly, I’ve been responsible to others to help make goals meaningful (and have failed), but I’ve also been part of goal-based systems I did not design that also failed. I’ve struggled in a number of ways including over-prescribing outcomes, little drive to help goals become important, and even allowing goals to become the unholy outcropping of a struggling performance management process.
I have recently adopted a slight adjustment to my own process. This adjustment comes from watching those who seem to get the most done, and also tend to deliver the most value in the top-right quadrant from the illustration to the right.
To try and get better, I am now using a “rough” 3 step process.
- Understand the Big Picture: I will not do it justice here, but will describe it a little and follow up with some more detail in subsequent post. This step is critical, and will take quite a lot of work initially. Thereafter, it will require time set aside for honest reflection.This might sound obvious, but you need to know what you believe in. Really. And you need to know how to work on that until you can describe it as simply as possible. It is the bedrock for you (or you and your team) to filter options and choose important goals to pursue. What is it you really want or want to bring to life?
- Set Goals: Next is to imagine specific outcomes. Point your energy toward something you want to achieve/become/accomplish. Know how to describe the vision for success. What would success look/feel like? Can you describe it concretely? Think about success for this goal, and what progress might look like along the way. This step is where the goal statements, outcomes, and possibly some waypoints will come to life. Using things like SMART goals may help, but I have found that this process can get in the way and allow me/teams to focus too much on the “project plan” of goals (a psychological dysfunction convincing us we can predict the future and completely control it). My belief is that we can influence the future, but too much planning implies that the more we plan, the more we guarantee outcomes. Basically, we commit to a detailed plan developed when we know the least about the realities of implementation. This is a nasty bug in our wetware — a cognitive bias. Not that some planning is unnecessary. It is. But boring in too deep can be silly as you won’t know what you will encounter along the way. Better to get the vision/outcome down with some basic way points, and move to step 3.
- Build Daily Habits: The last step is honestly the core of the post, and is indeed where most of my adjustment has occurred. It’s not the most important piece, but is a step designed to help achieve the outcome desired. Some describe this as a way to build systems of daily action. This is used to indicate growth toward the goal or outcome. Put the emphasis on adjusting *behaviors* to create daily habits. Essentially the idea is to develop habits of daily action that will move you toward your goal. Daily success is the key, paying attention to ongoing way points for reflection and adjustment. This is also a wonderful way to feel accomplishment on the journey every single day, versus frustration that you haven’t yet arrived at the destination. Learning improves wildly when we take small, daily actions versus waiting for a chance to make a few enormous changes. As you probably guessed, this is a way to apply lean concepts to goals. I’m not sure why I haven’t connected these dots years and years ago.
This is an approach I am using now, and will let you know how its going. The evidence is not ready yet. I will also describe step 3 in more detail in a follow up post and introduce the concept of “driving with the headlights” (not my analogy, but effective nonetheless).