As an avid tennis fan, let’s just say for a couple of decades, I’ve not seen the top ranking players shift all that often, especially in women’s tennis. If you follow sports at all, you most likely know the Williams’ sisters and their dominance of the sport. But at some point, they too will no longer play, so the tennis world is fascinated to see who will rise to the highest ranks. What I am watching now is a group of aspiring young players dreaming of attaining the number one world ranking. To reach the #1 spot, they all know they need to leverage their natural talents, as well as become more powerful, faster and strengthen their strategic thinking to know which stroke and ball placement to use to overcome their opponent. Not all of these enhancements can be achieved at once. But with hard work, and a plan, they start building toward each. They then set out on their journey of improving their game, and possibly becoming the number one player in the world.
What is your aspirational vision for your career? How is your progress going? Are you feeling a little short of where you want to be? You are not alone.
We all have a vision of what we believe will give us a sense of purpose and happiness, but many of us struggle to realize our aspirations. Businesses are live beings too and without a clear vision, employees will take on responsibilities that may not contribute to growth.
And as we watch colleagues, friends, public figures and businesses across a variety of industries achieve great success, we become frustrated. So how are these diverse individuals and successful companies thriving? The common thread is the practice of setting goals; and more importantly, clearly defining plans or actions needed to achieve them.
Goals allow us to transform an obscure path of hope into clear steps to achieving our vision. Why is this? When we take the deliberate action of writing down our goals, we commit to working to achieve them.
Writing down goals is a great first step, but it is only the first step to achieving a vision. Next, a plan for success needs to be defined. The comprehensive goal-setting process includes:
- Define goals. The optimal number of goals to maintain focus and ensure success is between 3 and 5. When defining your goals, be as specific as possible and ensure they are realistic. You will want to consider if you have access to the needed resources to achieve them in the desired timeframe. You should include both short-term and long-term goals. The key will be to balance goals that are not too easy or too hard. Easy goals are not motivating. And if goals are too difficult, you may become frustrated, which can lead you to abandon your goals altogether.
- Define success. Whenever possible, set quantifiable measurements for each goal within a specific timeframe. These markers will help ensure you direct your energy appropriately to achieve the desired outcome. Tracking your progress will identify when you might need to pivot to overcome unexpected roadblocks.
- Define a plan. Success starts at the planning phase. Get specific. Think deeply about the desired result and then work backwards. Define in detail the actions needed in order to achieve the desired outcome. For larger, longer-term goals, this process will identify short-term actions or milestones needed to achieve the overall goal, like a 50% improvement in employee retention within 2-years, 200% year-over-year revenue growth, 25% increase in brand awareness within 12-months, etc. Setting dates for these short-term milestones will help keep pace and make progress toward achieving the larger goal. Finally, write down every detail to ensure nothing is forgotten when executing your plan.
- Do the work.Execute your defined plans and pivot as needed to move closer to your goal.
- Share progress. Research has shown that sharing progress with others strengthens commitment to and the ability to achieve a goal. Identify someone (your manager or mentor) to share on-going updates. You will become more determined when you have successes to share. And talking through challenges may lead to breakthrough ideas to get back on the path to achieving your goal.
Journey to Achieving Goals
There are many benefits of the practice of setting goals. The most significant include:
- Creating a sense of purpose. When we know what we are working towards, we are energized and challenged to achieve our defined purpose.
- Providing accountability. Goals define how we and others will hold us accountable, providing clear focus.
- Maintaining focus. When a new request comes our way, we will naturally ask “Will this contribute to achieving my goals?” If the answer is no, we will de-prioritize it, or better yet, feel empowered to respectfully say “no.” This focus significantly improves our ability to manage our time and increases our productivity.
- Strengthening decision-making. Goals allow us to think more purposely. We consider how an action will impact the achievement of defined goals, leading to more sound decision-making. Sounder decisions lead to goal achievement, which increases confidence, which strengthens decision-making. This cycle becomes a self-fueling energy source.
- Stimulating growth. Even the best defined plans will hit roadblocks. The greatest opportunity to learn and grow is when things don’t go as planned. When unanticipated situations or mistakes occur, reflecting on the planning process and analysis of each prior step helps strengthen strategic development skills.
Organizations who encourage their employees to set goals experience even greater benefits, including enhanced communication across teams and more favorable financial results. When leaders clearly layout the corporate objectives or goals for a period of time, employees are empowered to set their personal jobs goals to ensure they are contributing to the overall success of the organization.
Goals become self-fulfilling motivators. As we achieve goals, we are motivated to set new ones and work hard to achieve even greater aspirations.