I have a habit of using the Notes app on my iPhone quite regularly. I write down to-do lists, grocery lists, and record the weights I lift at the gym. Sometimes, I even write down goals, usually in the form of a handful of objectives I would like to achieve at some point in the future. More often than not, I write a few goals down and then forget about having written them at all. And then, often years later, I clean up my Notes app and stumble across a list or two of objectives I jotted down. Guess what I find? That in almost every case, I have either achieved the objectives I wrote down, or I am on a path to achieve them. Before the Notes app, I experienced the same with goals sketched out in notebooks or journals. The bottom line is, I believe in the power of writing goals down, and these personal experiences are all the evidence I need.
In business, we are typically more deliberate about when and how we capture goals. Whether part of an employee review process, a team project charter, or a quarterly business review, goals are part and parcel of work for many of us. Most of us have learned to use the SMART goal framework, which can help us effectively state strong goals. If this is new to you, SMART is an acronym which stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. Ensuring your goals meet these criteria makes a great foundation for actually achieving the goal!
Is it that simple, or could there be more to the story? Recently, I had the great fortune to coach a couple of plant leaders for several months. We started with decent goals that fit the SMART framework, but as time went on, I had the feeling we were not accomplishing as much as we could be. The urgent was getting in the way of the important, priorities from leadership were shifting, and staffing shortages were sucking up our precious time! After a bit of reflection, I concluded that I knew what was missing: a more robust dialogue about the goals we set out to achieve.
It’s reasonable that some goals are individual and personal, but the for the majority of goals, it is probably best not to set them in a vacuum. A robust discussion about our goals, what it will take to achieve them, and what could go wrong can result in a more meaningful goal WITH greater chances of success. Going forward, I’ll use many of the same questions for kickstarting a coaching relationship that I would use for a more complex improvement project or business transformation.
I have found the below questions help to formulate a better overall goal AND give us a solid jumpstart on actually achieving the goal. I recommend recording answers to these questions, and then reviewing those answers when you sit down to review progress on the goals. This process enables us to learn more and recover more gracefully when the progress isn’t what we’d desired.
What would you add to this list?
- What do I want help with?
- Why is it important to me?
- Why do it now?
- What is the impact?
- What must happen to achieve the goal?
- Are there any sacred cows standing in our way?
- How much of my time will this require?
- Who else will I need to engage?
- How much of their time will this require?
- What have we tried to solve this problem in the past?
- What are some initial steps we can each take to get started?
- What does the end result look like?
- What could go wrong? Anything we could do now to prevent that?