"goal setting"

Fri 16 August 2019
A goal without a plan is a wish. Is this common sentiment true? Is it impossible for us to achieve a goal that we never planned for?


The ability to set goals equates to an ability to possess control of the outcomes of your situation.


If you are in a job and think to yourself “I hate this job and would be more than willing to accept an offer from another company” but don’t do anything to get an offer from another company, how do you really expect to get another job? Your complaint falls on deaf ears. I have interviewed roughly 100 recent graduates in the past year that are seeking new jobs and about half of them aren’t doing anything to actually “seek” a job. In fact, the closest they got to “seeking” a job was telling me in that interview that they were probably seeking for a new job. I then follow up to ask them “how long have you felt this way?” and the response is typically at least a month to sometimes at least a year.


Why? Your career is typically one of the most prominent sources of professional aspirations. Why are young professionals so complacent in being unsatisfied? Rather, once they realize they are unsatisfied, why is there not a process of setting and achieving goals to get out of that unsatisfaction?


Actually seeking a new career is hard, takes time, and typically isn’t fun. The irony of getting out of a bad job situation is that you have to work even harder outside of that job to find a new one. The issue is that most people enable themselves to not work as hard outside of their job because of the stress they receive from their job. Then, through some random job opportunity (a friend mentioning it, a random email, etc.), you jump on it like it’s the gold rush without thinking “is this job in fact better than my old job?”


Part of goal setting, especially in a professional environment, requires self-awareness. Working to better understand yourself should be the first plan to achieving any professional goal. Taking the time to write down what you like and don’t like (in this example, in your job) is vital to understanding what your next move will be. This takes time and may even require the help of your peers, close friends, and family to inform you of what you like to do and what your strengths are. This is because sometimes you are so deep into what you are doing (and what you think you should be doing) that you can’t see the forest from the trees. From there you can analyze what jobs you think you might like and then reach out to people actually doing those jobs (LinkedIn is great for this) to get better insight on what the job is like. When reaching out to those people, don’t ask whether or not they like the job because that depends on their personality and work style and how that meshes with their work opportunities. Their work style is completely different from yours so their feelings about the job should be irrelevant to you. Questions like “is the work autonomous or structured?” are better because they are not as subjective.


This is just an example of setting a plan to achieving a goal, but the point is that it pays off to plan and not let things come at you as random happenstance.

Wed 22 July 2020
In my discussion with my mentor this month, we talked about challenging ourselves and setting tangible goals. It’s common knowledge that the best way to succeed at anything is to set goals and objectives and measure yourself against them. It’s not always so easy to actually do it, or even remember that you should. It is very easy to get lost in the business of daily life and work and forget to set goals for yourself. It’s also easy to make excuses that allow you to put them off. 

For me personally, there’s a level of fear in setting goals as well. If I go through the process of setting a goal, then that means I could fail. If I don’t set any goals, I can never technically fail. That’s not really a useful way to accomplish anything though, which is why having a mentor is so helpful. Among many other things, a mentor can be an accountability partner. This partnership is a powerful tool for both creating and reaching goals, which is exactly what we talked about in our last meeting. 

My mentor and I helped each other create some goals for the next few months. My goals were created as a result of my most recent peer review. My self-ratings were pretty well in-line with those of my peers, however my own scores were slightly lower than my peers’. With some insight from Garrett Mintz of Ambition in Motion, we figured out that this means I’m likely able to ask a little more from my colleagues. My mentor and I took that idea and created a goal from it. My goal is to make at least three asks per week that I normally wouldn’t. This may seem simple, but it’s a confidence building exercise. It’s a stepping stone on my way to larger, greater goals as well. My mentor has his own goals too, and we’ll be checking in with each other weekly to see if we’ve followed through, that’s where the accountability comes in. I’m excited to get started and see where we go next!


Tue 16 February 2021
One of the lessons that I’m continually being taught is the value of reflection and retrieval.  Our last two sessions certainly reinforced this lesson.

Reflection:  Making time to deliberately review an event, a day, a week, etc.  Reflection is more than just recounting the details or the chronology, but it involves evaluation and analysis.  What went wrong?  Why?  Could it have been prevented?  Could it have been anticipated?

More often than we might like to admit, we can learn far more when things don’t go the way we planned, or even if they completely fail, than if they had gone perfectly. 

Retrieval:  The ability to recall both specifics and related information from a past event.   One of the challenges in the field of education and training is not just how to cram information into a person’s head, but teaching them how to retrieve them quickly and correctly when needed.   Sometimes the ability of retrieval can mean the difference between life and death.  The military uses repetition and drills to create muscle memory so that some actions don’t even require concentrated thought.  They become more of a reaction than a decision – but “time to think” (or retrieve) isn’t a luxury you often have in combat.

So how does retrieval connect with reflection?  If you only take the time to reflect after an event you can glean a lot of useful information.  Some of which you may be able to put to good use right away.  But if you don’t learn how to retrieve those lessons later, when they are needed, they have greatly diminished value.  

I’ve heard many people say how much they “hate” quizzes and tests.  I think it’s because we don’t do a good job explaining to students what the test is trying to do – if we did, they would study very differently.  Tests don’t measure what you “know” or what you crammed into some small crevice of your brain.  They measure what you can retrieve.  

Now let me try to bring this all together.  In our last two Peer Mentoring sessions, we had the opportunity to revisit some of our past goals and discuss which ones were successfully accomplished and which ones taught us something.  

None of the stories we shared were new to either one of us.  But in the process of retrieving these stories and telling them again, I was reminded of past lessons learned, maybe even almost forgotten.  It helped me to remember how important it is to revisit our own past, success, and lessons, so that when the “next time” comes around we can quickly retrieve the knowledge to help us be more successful.


Wed 3 March 2021
In my executive peer mentoring, the latest area we’ve addressed is looking at a major goal in our lives – first, one where we failed to reach the goal; second, where we did. 

In both cases, what were obstacles we faced that hindered, derailed, or threatened to keep us from reaching the goal? A great exercise, thanks to the Ambition in Motion team.
 
Without sharing either story at length (which might interest you, or bore you to tears), two things, in particular, stood out to me:

When is a goal, not a goal?

What are critical success factors, to overcoming obstacles in your path toward the goal?

To flesh this out -

When a goal isn’t really a goal


In the goal where I failed, I realized that I saw it evolve. First, I had the sense that I wanted to do something – that is, write a new book. I had that as a goal in my head, for the better part of a year. Then, I moved the goal into writing – I had set the goal for a specific year, to “write a new book”. I even had a couple of strategies I’d seen presented and used, and thought about the various steps: develop vision and abstract, outline, key themes, and write the introduction. 
 
But it remained unfulfilled because I went month after month without being more specific and intentional. What were the obstacles?

Life: Workload, personal commitments, family, volunteer activity
Me:  It became apparent that this just wasn’t a priority for me.

So, a goal is not a goal when I don’t get underneath it, behind it, and intentional about it, and devote time and energy toward it.
 
Sounds simple – as so many things in life are!

Critical success factors to overcoming obstacles


In both examples where I failed, and when I succeeded in reaching the goal – I reflected on obstacles that were in the way. To get us to a goal that is really a goal, we need to:

Make it a SMART goal (you’ve almost certainly heard this, but it’s no less true):
  • Specific - concise
  • Measurable – will know when it’s complete
  • Achievable – something I can control, vs. solving world hunger
  • Realistic – something I am equipped for
  • Time-based – target date, deadline, milestones.

Make it a priority


I tend to be goal and list-focused. If it’s on a list, it gets done. If it’s on a list as an “A” priority, it really will get done (Bs get moved out and done later, sometimes when they upgrade to As. Cs tend to get pushed out and done much later if ever). So, what do I relegate to the B or C list, to make room for the A goal?

Allocate time to it


Plan time in blocks, or chunks, devoted to it. Push off other attempts to encroach on the time that’s been allocated for working on it.

Keep your motivation for it


We build and maintain momentum, from the motivation that comes from within us. Without that, the other steps I’ve outlined, simply won’t happen. My mentor also observed that we can build the motivation for developing a new habit, by “doing” the habit! Practice yields behavior.

So if you’re a bit stymied in getting to something you’ve set for yourself as a goal – consider the above. Is it really a goal for you? Or an idea that you heard or had, or an “external” goal that someone else has for you? If it’s real, reframe it as a SMART goal, and examine your priorities and time.
 
Happy “goal-tending”…


Mon 10 May 2021
I lead an Executive Horizontal Mentorship Program and part of what I do is facilitate group sessions where all the executives come together to share their insights, questions, and thoughts on a new topic each session.

For our March group meeting, the topic was leadership and how we can improve our ability to lead at our companies. These meetings tend to start with one topic, but eventually lead to fruitful, wide-ranging conversations that might not obviously connect to our initial topic. For this meeting, we eventually started discussing psychological safety, the belief that you won’t be punished for making a mistake. 

And then, one of the executives in our group brought up the point:

“It seems that progress and gratitude are in conflict with each other. If I am grateful, I am celebrating something that existed in the past. But if I am focused on progress, I am quickly dismissing the wins to move onto the next challenge.”

This is a fascinating point that I’ve been ruminating on for the past few weeks. There is a lot of research on the power of gratitude and its correlation with happiness. As a simple demonstration, really try to be grateful and angry at the same time and notice the contradiction between those feelings. 

There is also a lot of research validating the power of SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) goals to achieve progress. 

Being grateful necessitates focusing on your past; being goal-oriented necessitates focusing on your future.

Can these mindsets work together?

This article is going to assess the merits of both practicing gratitude and goal-setting. I’ll consider their respective implications on business outcomes and analyze whether or not they are truly incompatible.

Gratitude

Gratitude is the public and private act of conscientiously and deliberately acknowledging something that has positively affected you. In a work setting, gratitude can inform your team of a job well done or show how much your team’s efforts meant to you. Gratitude gives your team purpose, a sense of pride, and a sense of belonging. It is an important signal showing the impact of their work and it shows that their work is respected and appreciated.

When frequently expressing gratitude for specific, meaningful actions is ingrained in the fabric of a culture, people tend to be happier and more likely to reach out to a coworker when something negative happens. A culture of gratitude helps build up rapport and unity across people and across teams.

People are also less likely to mistake feedback for criticism. When gratitude is an active part of the culture, it fosters emotional resilience for negative news because they know that there is no malice from the other person when receiving feedback. 

The point is gratitude helps build emotional resilience. And a culture of gratitude for specific, meaningful actions helps deflate passive-aggressive mindsets or people omitting information for fear of hurt feelings. A culture of gratitude supports open, honest communication, resilient mindsets, and high-quality work. 

Goal Setting

SMART goal-setting means setting Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound activities (SMART) for achieving your goals. This helps you identify a specific vision and create a measurable and achievable plan for something you intend to accomplish. SMART goal-setting helps teams plan for the future, improve performance, and identify specific issues and solutions for the problems they encounter. 

SMART goal setting improves the efficiency and effectiveness of teams. It empowers people to envision what they would like to accomplish and helps them create a specific step-by-step plan that will accomplish that outcome. 

Can gratitude and goal setting work together?

 The Executive Horizontal Mentorship group that started this discussion seems to think that they are compatible, and I am inclined to agree. As mentioned previously, a culture of gratitude can boost the emotional resiliency of teammates, and this makes the identification of challenges faster and finding solutions easier. 

When teams don’t have a culture of gratitude, issues start popping up all over the place: an employee trying to solve a tough problem alone; a coworker spending too much time crafting their feedback to avoid hurt feelings; a teammate happy to criticize problems without caring to offer solutions. These brief examples are only the tip of the iceberg.  

The ability to identify these challenges and properly communicate them with the team helps support the work of setting SMART goals to solve the issues at hand. Open, honest, grateful communication helps your team look into the future, and SMART goals help your team leverage the present to improve the future. 

Taking intentional time for gratitude on a consistent basis creates pathways and lines of communication that make problem-solving and SMART goal setting more effective. So, while the two ideas of Progress and Gratitude seemed to be in contradiction at first glance, hopefully, I’ve shown you how that is simply not the case. Instead, Progress and Gratitude build off each other to create a strong, productive, and engaged workplace. 

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