Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of being invited to be the in-studio guest expert on CBC Radio to discuss why people have a hard time keeping their New Year’s Resolutions and what we should be doing to be successful in achieving our goals.
Over the course of the hour-long show, the show’s host invited callers from across Montreal to call in to share their experiences in making New Year’s Resolutions after which he asked me to share my insights on how people can succeed at achieving their goals over the next 12 months.
Although the focus of the program was on New Year’s Resolutions, I realized that some of the insights I discussed on this show are also valuable for leaders who want to make sure they are providing the right conditions for their employees to be successful in their collective efforts.
And so with 2016 now well under way, I’d like to share the following 3 key strategies that will help you cross the finish line in achieving those goals you’ve mapped out for your organization to attain this year.
1. Direct your focus towards goals that matter
In much of my work with leaders in both Canada and the US, one issue that repeatedly comes up is the struggle with busyness – of feeling like the work we’re doing is simply for the sake of getting things off our plate so we can move onto the next thing demanding our attention, as opposed to doing work that helps move our organization forward in achieving our shared vision.
Indeed, there’s been a number of studies that have pointed out how today’s leaders are operating from an increasingly distracted state – where their focus is often taken away from what matters most to their organization’s shared purpose due to the increasing pull they face on their time, attention and resources.
As such, while many of us are understandably feeling as though our workloads continue to increase year after year, the kind of work we do every day is becoming more and more disconnected from what inspires us to show up and deliver our best efforts to the cause.
That’s why when it comes to defining goals for those you lead, you need to answer the question – why does it matter? [Share on Twitter] Why should your employees dedicate their talents, creativity, and efforts to making this goal a reality? And where will it lead your organization once you’ve achieved it?
Answering these questions right from the start will not only help you to articulate why it’s important and why others should care, but it will also help your employees to understand what’s expected of them and how they can feel successful by doing more than simply clearing tasks off their list.
2. Shift your perception of progress as things move forward
During the show, we had one caller who told us how he’s been using his retirement to take up running. In our discussion of setting goals, he mentioned how he had set the goal for himself to run 250km over the course of 12 months.
Last December, he realized that he was about 35km short from achieving that goal and so, despite the cold weather and snow, he mapped out time and dates that would allow him to complete the remaining 35km of his running goal.
While the radio host and I were understandably impressed with this elderly man’s ability to take on running such long distances, what was particularly noteworthy about his story was how he went about achieving his goal for last year.
As I pointed out to the show’s host, the reason why this caller had been successful in reaching his target was because when he was evaluating his progress in December, his focus was on how much further he had left to go instead of how far he had run so far. Focusing on what he had left to do gave him that motivational bump to get back out there and finish his goal, instead of being satisfied that he was close enough to his target.
Similarly, in terms of keeping your employees motivated and engaged in the process of achieving your organization’s goals for this year, it’s important for us to recognize that we have to help them shift their focus over time in terms of how they evaluate their progress.
As I described in a piece I wrote last year, researchers have found that the key to successful goal completion stems from how we shift our perception of progress as things move forward.
Specifically, that while at the start, it makes sense for us to focus on how much we’ve completed to date in terms of reaching our goal, when we’re about halfway there, we need to shift our focus to how much we have left to go if we are to sustain that drive to keep pressing ahead.
In other words, achieving our goals requires a shift from how far we’ve gone to how far we have left to go [Share on Twitter].
By understanding the evolving nature of keeping people motivated over the span of a collective effort, we can help our employees to sustain their motivation in the weeks and months ahead.
3. Treat failures as part of the process to achieving your goals
As guests across Montreal called in to talk about the goals they set for themselves in 2016, a common thread could clearly be seen amongst the stories shared over the span of the hour-long radio show. Regardless of whether the goal was for their professional or personal lives, the one thing they all shared in common was how the underlying drive behind them was the desire to improve; to be better than we are today.
Indeed, this is also the reason why many leaders set up goals for their organization – not simply to maintain an established operating approach or status quo, but instead to find ways to better address the changing dynamics both within and outside their organization. Of how we can be more effective, more responsive, and basically more successful in achieving the shared purpose that defines why we do what we do.
Of course, in that pursuit to find a way to do things better, there is an understandable anticipation that through the process of achieving this goal we’ve set for our organization, we will become more resilient, more competitive than we were before.
The irony is that the very motivation that drives us to push ourselves to change is also what makes it hard for us to accept failure. Indeed, the challenge we face with failure is how it exposes our frailties under the harsh light of change [Share on Twitter]. In those moments, we can see our weaknesses and blindspots with such clarity that it can seem scary why we were unable to see or anticipate that it would rear its ugly head in our direction.
But this is where many of us get this part of the process wrong – in thinking that these moments of failure reflect a sign of weakness or inability on our part to actually achieve what we set out to accomplish.
What we need to understand is that in pushing ourselves to be better, we will inevitably discover areas where we need to learn more, to understand better, and to operate in a manner different from what we did in the past.
Interestingly, this is at the very heart of the change that drives so many of the goals we set out for our organization to achieve this year. After all, no one creates or defines goals with the purpose of maintaining the status quo; to keep things static or unmoving. Rather, all of us want to see things improve; the only difference being how do we define what that improvement will look or feel like.
And for us to improve, we need to be open to learning about our current limitations, to better understand what those around us and those we serve require from us to be successful, and what we should be doing that better reflects both our current and future reality.
That’s why we shouldn’t shy away from failure, but rather recognize it for what it is – a signal that we are in fact pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone. That we’re challenging ourselves to affect change that will hopefully lead us towards the vision or purpose that binds our collective efforts together.
Indeed, it’s in these moments where the real learning and growth happens because we’re forced to challenge our assumptions of what’s real, and even at times what’s possible. That’s why when it comes to achieving our goals, our failures are nothing more than success in progress [Share on Twitter].
Ultimately, when it comes to understanding what it takes to succeed at achieving our goals, it’s important for us to understand that this involves charting a course to explore our collective potential – of what we’re truly capable of achieving when we work together towards making things better than they are today.
And perhaps most importantly, to better understand what inspires those we lead to bring their best selves to the work they do by bringing a greater sense of purpose to the contributions our employees make to our shared purpose.