,This is the second in a series of blogs aimed at helping you create plans for your business that actually increase your chances of success. The first blog, which you can find here, outlines the 5 Essential Requirements for A Good Plan (vs just any old plan!). This blog and 4 subsequent blogs will give you more detail on each of those requirements, to help you implement them. You can sign up below to make sure you receive the next instalments as soon as they go live.
I’m going to talk in more detail about Goals here, with the aim of helping you to ensure the goals you set, are designed to ensure you actually achieve them.
Why do we need goals?
As I covered in the first blog in the series – goals are the most common trigger for needing a plan in the first place. There is something you want to achieve and you need a plan to take you there. Without a clear goal, there is no way of evaluating whether your plan is taking you where you want to go. Without a clear goal we can find ourselves working really hard, being incredibly busy – and going absolutely nowhere. It feels frustrating, exhausting and can very quickly destroy the drive we had for our business.
On the flipside, when we have a goal, it’s gives the direction that underpins each decision we make and each action we take.
Being careful what you wish for
I, funnily enough, have set myself a lot of goals over the years, with varying degrees of success. A number of times I have achieved exactly what I set out to and then found myself a bit confused, lost or even unhappy. Over the years I came to realise that whilst I did genuinely want the things I set out to achieve, I had missed some additional aspects that would have made the world of difference. I set career goals and financial goals that meant I had an amazing life in many ways, with lots of travelling and holidays and not having to worry about bills. But the jobs themselves didn’t set me on fire and some of the people I worked with made life working life just dull. I set a goal to leave corporate life by the time I was 40, which I did. But the year of being 38 was one of the toughest of my life.
When I reflect on these and many more similar situations, I realise that I missed crucial parts of my goals. When we are attempting to be Specific, there is a danger that we can focus too heavily on one area and forget to look at others. Had I made my goal to be running a successful business by the time I was 40, my decisions in the years leading up to it, would probably have been very different. Now I am actually running that business, I have taken the time to define what successful means to me so that I don’t get caught out by having a financially successful business that doesn’t excite me. It turns out that being specific means getting really specific!
SMART is a good start.
The reason I talk about getting specific is because, as I touched on in the first blog, I believe SMART goals are a really good start. Ensuring your goal fits with the SMART framework will ensure it is a goal that can be achieved – as opposed to a dream, hope or vague ambition that is too woolly to build a solid plan of action towards.
If you’re not familiar with it, SMART is a commonly used acronym to describe what a goal should be and it stands for:
Relevant (Or sometimes seen as Realistic but that overlaps with Achievable)
It basically means tightening up your definition of the goal so that you can be very clear on what you mean by it. A really good way of thinking about it is to think of sporting goals (which is why we call them goals in the first place 🙂 ). Sporting goals have precise definitions, that mean what counts as a goal can be applied in any game, by any person.
A goal in football requires the ball to pass over a particular line on the pitch, within a set distance between two marked points or into a net (- specific). Crossing the line is a physical act that either happens or it doesn’t (- measurable) and, each time it happens scores 1 point (- even more measurable). The size of the net is proportionate to the size of the pitch and the way the game is played (- achievable). Scoring a goal affects the result of the game and who wins whatever prize is on offer, even if that’s just bragging rights! (- relevant). It has to happen within the timeframe of the match and whilst the ball is officially in play (- timebound).
Your business – or indeed personal – goal should be capable of being articulated in a similar way. If you were to explain it, to someone reasonably familiar with your business, would they know: what needs to be done, how they’ll know they’ve done it, see that it’s possible, know what purpose it serves and when it has to happen? If so, well done, you have a SMART goal.
The difference between Can Achieve v Will Achieve
I emphasise again a SMART goal is a goal that can be achieved. I don’t want just “can” for you though, I want “will” be achieved! I’m demanding like that 😉
A lot of businesses get very excited by SMART goals and that’s where they stop. But SMART is technical and business-y and it completely ignores the fact that goals are achieved by real, live, human, people. And real, live, human, people have real, live, human, people thoughts and behaviours and all of the complexity that comes along with that.
If we want people to actually achieve those goals (whether those people are ourselves or our teams), we have to engage their thoughts and behaviours.
The 4Ps of Goal-Setting. (Because one acronym is never enough)
The 4Ps aren’t just about keeping our alphanumeric skills sharp. The 4Ps, helpfully, correspond to the People aspect of our goal setting and relate to how people are motivated to behave.
Sometimes, our brains are just too clever for their own good. And one of those ways is focus. Focus can work for or against us. If we’re focusing on the right things, amazing results follow. If we’re focusing on the wrong things…. disaster tends to be not far behind.
If we were to set a goal such as stopping working late or, avoiding the wrong kind of customers, those are negative goals. And the trouble with negative goals is, that in order to make sure you stop, avoid or don’t do something, you tend to focus on the thing you are trying to stop, avoid or not do.
For example, if we set our goal to not work so late, that becomes the focus in our mind. We don’t pay much attention at 5pm, 6pm, 7pm, 7.30pm… because we’ve not decided those times are too late. But then, before we know it, it’s 8pm and now it starts to feel late but maybe we’ll just finish the thing we’re working on and bam, it’s after 8pm and we feel like we’ve worked later than we intended to.
If we had set a positive goal of finishing work earlier or even (because SMART still applies), set a time we wanted to finish at – let’s say 6pm – a whole different picture emerges. If we are focussed on finishing by 6pm, we keep 6pm in the front of our minds and we plan our time differently. As 6pm approaches, we prioritise the time we have left. As if by magic, 6pm rolls around and we’re in a place where we can leave things.
Otherwise known as the power of now. A goal that isn’t relatable to the present time, is always going to end up being deprioritised. Conflicts arise, things pull us in different directions and compete for our attention and energy. If a goal doesn’t feel like it matters NOW, then something that does feel like it does matter now will get worked on instead.
The more long-term the goal, the more the danger here. That isn’t to say we shouldn’t have long-term goals. Big transformations can take time and we have to start somewhere. The important thing, is to remember to make the goal have some value in the present moment and not just a distant pay-off that makes it ok to postpone working on it. For example, instead of “My goal is to have a revamped website in 3 months”, we could try “My goal is to make weekly improvements to my website”. Then we’re going to feel some pressure, at least weekly, to work on our website versus being tempted to wait until the last month – and then work on it in a panic and probably miss our deadline.
Linking goals can be really helpful here. Publishing this blog series could really happen at pretty much any time. Yes I want to get it out so that it helps people. But there is no intrinsic pressure to go live on a set day. However, I have linked other goals and deadlines, around my planning workshops, to completing this blog series, which means there are additional benefits to me for finishing it. Those benefits are relevant to me right now so the blog becomes important to me right now.
Although it sounds very similar to Achievable, Possible has a slightly different emphasis. The 4Ps relate to People, so here it’s about the person working on the goal actually believing it’s possible to achieve.
Some things are technically Achievable but realistically impossible or, at least, not very feasible when all factors are considered. (And sometimes the person working on the goal rather than the goal-setter, is better placed to know this – despite some managers wishing this wasn’t the case!)
We also have a tendency to get in our own way with our belief systems. We can know it’s achievable to make a certain amount of money in our business – because other people do – but whether we believe it’s possible for ourselves is an entirely different matter. When setting goals for a team, we need to take care to ensure the person working on the goal believes it for themselves.
Whether it’s because we believe the goal hasn’t taken things into account or because of our personal belief system, if we’re second guessing whether a goal is possible, we’re not committed to achieving it. If we’re not committed, those other demands on our time are going to take precedence eventually. We need to hear the words we are saying to ourselves or, those our team members are responding with and, be clear about the difference between words like I could, I can, I will and pay attention to the tone in which they are being said.
We need to be honest about whether we believe it’s possible. There is a lot of hype about believing and affirmations and “Positive Mental Attitudes” that can mean we feel pressure to be positive about everything. Unfortunately if we don’t truly believe something, it’s actually more unhelpful to pretend we do. Honesty is, as ever, the best policy! And, if you manage people, avoiding the urge to push your belief on to them is very important – you need to meet them where they are really at, if you want any hope of success.
If you have a goal that you don’t believe in, it’s going to be soul destroying to try and aim for it. When we set goals we don’t fully believe in, we dip our toes in and out, we don’t fully commit to any of the actions we take, we change our minds and aim for other things and then swing back to the original thing because we feel guilty. And then, we beat ourselves up for not doing something, that we didn’t believe we could do in the first place. And if you’ve ever been given a goal by someone else that you didn’t believe in, how frustrating is it when they complain it’s not done and you’re thinking “well I told you it couldn’t be done in the first place!”? Ignoring what we really believe helps no one!
If there is something you want but don’t fully believe you can have, there are broadly two ways you can approach it:
1 – aim for a smaller goal that you do genuinely believe in. This will be soooo much more impactful in the long-term. You will succeed and that success will drive bigger goals, stronger beliefs and increasing successes. This will help you build up, to still achieve your big goal eventually and, you’ll have other wins along the way.
2 – find a way to believe in the big goals. Understanding why you don’t believe in them will help you understand what you need to address, in order for you to believe in them. A good coach can be very helpful for challenging those beliefs. If you’re not ready for a coach yet, then it’s time to delve a bit more deeply into your thought and question why you think what you think.
I have to confess I have saved the best for last and this is my favourite of them all. This is where I tend to spend the majority of my time with clients because it’s the driving force behind change and success. When there is a personal benefit, then we have a reason to keep going when it’s hard.
There is a quote in the film “You’ve Got Mail” where Meg Ryan’s character says to Tom Hanks’ character “Whatever else anything is, it ought to start with being personal”. I love it. Because you know, it really should – shouldn’t it?
So yes, even your business goals need to be made personal too. What dreams is success in your business going to help you fulfil? If you are setting goals for your team-members, how are they personal for them? Good line managers have good relationships with their team and know what they dream off. How are you connecting your business success with their personal ambitions?
Business success starts and ends with people. People have a problem that your business provides some kind of technical solution to. That solution itself is driven or even provided by the people within the business itself. The 4Ps are designed to link your business processes to the people carrying them out, so it makes sense that we link them to what motivates those people.
Having a revenue or income goal, wanting to serve more customers or help more people are all great goals. Knowing how receiving that revenue or income will impact your life or being able to envisage how it will feel to serve and help more people, will turn your great goals into goals you are excited about taking action towards.
Remember that your goals need to become a plan
Once you’ve spent some time getting crystal clear on your goals, it might be a good time to refer back to the first blog in the series. The first blog will help steer you, to consider the next part of your planning process. Don’t forget to sign up below to hear about the upcoming blogs in the series as soon as they go live too.
For those of you who would like additional support, to ensure your planning process is taking you where you actually want to go, there are also two options. You can request a free one on one call with me to discuss how I can best support you. Or you can join one of my upcoming planning workshops.