Around this time each year, crowds of well-intentioned people looking to completely change their body composition flock to local health clubs to sign-up for shiny new gym memberships. And just as predictably, the spike of bodies that swarmed those facilities for a matter of weeks steadily vanish, leaving not much evidence of their time there beyond a mountain of unrealized New Year’s Resolutions. It’s not just gym memberships either – the majority of New Year’s Resolutions remain unresolved and leave us feeling worse off than we started. But, things don’t always have to be this way. Setting and completing challenging goals is one of the most rewarding things in life as well as in business. And just as in our personal lives, successful business goal achievement relies on a few key steps to avoid falling short of completion.
S.M.A.R.T. Goals are Good Goals
Okay, you may have already heard this one before, but before you can work on completing a particular goal, you have to define what that goal is, first. As obvious as this may seem, many people who miss their goals initially failed to have ever clearly defined what their objectives were in the first place. To avoid that, make goals using the SMART method.
- Specific – Be clear on what you want to achieve. Focus on whatever figures make sense for your business and be certain you know where the finish line is. Example: “Grow sales by 10%,” versus simply, “Make more sales.”
- Measurable – If you have a goal to provide better customer support, how will you know if you’ve achieved it? Unless you attach a metric to gauge your progress, goal attainment will be way too subjective to be useful. Example: A restaurant may target attaining a certain Yelp rating or customer service agents may aspire to a certain benchmark average on feedback surveys.
- Attainable – Look, we all want to dominate our particular markets, but how realistic is it to get to the top of the food chain in your company’s first year? Even giants like Apple took decades and plenty of setbacks to find their place in the world. Focus on goals that are aggressive enough to be meaningful and yet plausible enough to not set yourself up for failure. Example: A plumber who is ready to grow aggressively may want to be the go-to resource for his region with operations in multiple states, but in his first year, maybe his goal is to expand into two new offices in key, strategic locations.
- Relevant – Make goals that will have the most positive impact on your business. If you’ve got a new, disruptive technology that is one-of-a-kind and ready to move but nobody knows about it, educating your market, generating demand, and training sales staff will each be far more important factors to your early success than improving your office to include a new kitchen. Example: A well-established business in a mature market experiencing flat growth is more likely to benefit from identifying new opportunities or reducing operating costs than by launching a new flexible work schedule through HR.
- Time-Bound – You need to hold yourself accountable to your goals with honest and objective time limits. Not establishing the termination of your effort can potentially backfire without a sense of urgency. Example: A company seeking to boost its growth in a certain sector by 15% without an established deadline so, three years later, when it reaches that goal organically, there is a misplaced sense of accomplishment.
Plan on Planning
Following the SMART formula for identifying your goals is an enormous step towards achieving them, however the second most stumbled upon hurdle to successfully reaching them is defining how to get there. The planning process is often the best opportunity we have to break old habits and establish better ones. Too often, companies that have gotten into a bind try to reach their SMART goals with the same tired methods that got them into their predicaments initially. Employing a few different approaches to problems can help your team map a winning course.
- Create Focused Teams – Sometimes the biggest challenges a company faces aren’t only the bane of the executive team. Often times, a company’s greatest opportunities lay with tackling whatever persistent issues it faces with regularity. While there may be a group already dedicated to slaying that dragon, they could perhaps be a bit battle-weary, as well. By recruiting conscripts to any particular special project, you know you have people who are motivated and eager to get to work on it.
- Seek Cross-Functional Input – If you’re stumbling breaking into a new level of performance in a particular area, try bringing more disciplines into the mix. If a marketer is struggling to get a new message out to their audience, but is basing the identity of the audience off of a report that contradicts who is actually his company’s customer, discussing his strategy with the sales staff might reveal that discrepancy, thus improving their message efficiency.
- Test and Test and Retest – Einstein defined insanity by doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Don’t be afraid to throw out a game plan if you find a better strategy, but also don’t think that a better strategy becomes apparent on its own, either. Even if you have found the secret recipe, never stop inviting new ideas and giving them arenas to be thrown through the paces, because what works one day won’t always be what works the next.
Using these tips for creating a plan of action is a natural way to increase collaboration in your team along the way. So even if your SMART goals persist after your target completion date, collaboration breaks down silos and improves mutual respect and appreciation between departments, increases a sense of ownership in the process and shared accountability and support in achievement, and provides critical perspective to any challenge.
Remember, though, Rome wasn’t built in a day. So if what you wanted to accomplish was really all that easy, you would already be doing it. Good luck in the new year and please have a happy and safe New Year’s Eve!