Over the many years of attempting to change myself by setting New Year’s resolutions, I have painfully become aware of the research that reveals only 8% of people who set goals actually achieve them, as recently documented by research from the University of Scranton.
The remaining 92% either quit, feeling discouraged and frustrated, or adopt the attitude of “Oh well, it didn’t really matter anyway,” and they move on.
Life is busy, and to be fair to the 92% who lose sight of their goals, the demands of daily life may have diverted their attention from the dedication required to be part of the successful 8%.
Let’s focus on achieving your professional goals and becoming part of that 8%.
The key lies in strategic thinking. Synonyms for strategic include key, meaningful, crucial, critical, pivotal, and essential. By understanding these synonyms, we grasp the necessity of strategic thinking to reach a goal.
If you were to promote an event, you would employ strategic thinking by considering the WHAT, WHY, WHEN, HOW, and WHO. Similarly, we can apply this strategic thinking to setting professional goals. Ask yourself:
What do I want?
Why do I want to reach this goal?
When do I want to reach this goal?
How can I consistently make progress toward this goal?
Who can help me?
The WHAT of your goal must be stated in specific terms. The more specific, the higher the motivation and the higher the excitement to reach the goal.
One example is the statement, “My goal is to be a top team leader in the company that delivers results on time and maintains high morale among team members.”
This statement is the bare bones of a strategic plan to transform your leadership skills. The remaining strategic questions clarify what this goal means and puts the flesh on the bones.
The Strategic WHY: Ask yourself – Why do I want this goal? How will it benefit me, the team, or the company? Will it increase my self-esteem and the self-esteem of each team member? Will it add to my leadership acumen?
As you improve your leadership expertise and build team cohesiveness, you become the leader people CHOOSE to follow, not HAVE to follow.
Bill Copeland, a poet and writer from Georgia, said “The trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score.”
The Why of building an excellent team is that you score recognition by senior leadership as someone who can be trusted with critical assignments. You also score increased team pride because everyone loves to be on the winning team.
The Strategic When: Nothing is more motivating than a deadline. Set a deadline, even if, due to circumstances, you need to move that deadline. A deadline gives you an internal sense of urgency that moves you into action.
When you are given a deadline, it is normal to have butterflies in your stomach as you close your eyes and imagine a whirling noise as it hurtles through space, passing you by.
Then the magic of a deadline occurs. No more excuses. No more going down rabbit holes. No more procrastination. You work more effectively with great focus. You do the work of worrying: You start planning HOW you will achieve your goal.
A past manager put it succinctly: “Without a deadline, many people won’t finish and without reaching the finish line, there can be no celebration.”
An example of When could be: “In one year at performance review time, my team will have completed their assigned projects on time and within budget.”
The Strategic How: When and How are inextricably connected with one phrase: the work of worrying. You can make consistent progress if you stop worrying about meeting the goal and instead, dive in and start breaking the goal into smaller and smaller increments until you come to items that can go on a daily to-do list. Breaking a goal into its components is the work of worrying. You keep asking the question, “In order to reach this goal, I must have ______________.” Keep asking this question until you have a plethora of daily tasks that take 10-15 minutes to complete. Here lies the essence of reaching your goal.
In the How stage, you will have many options, and prioritizing is essential. Here is an example of the HOWs you can break into smaller increments.
In order to meet the September 1st deadline on project XYZ, I will hold a meeting on August 15 to delegate assignments. To make the August 15 meeting successful I must:
- Reserve a room – August 1
- Decide catering – August 2
- Decide the scope and number of individual assignments for the project – August 5
- Decide which team member should have which portion of the project – August 6
- Write the agenda – August 10
- Send out invites – May 12
Sometimes the breaking down of a task can be done in your head, but making a list ensures no detail is missed.
The Strategic Who: Make a short list of who can help you. There is power in confiding your goal to someone you trust, a friend or a colleague. When working to reach a professional goal, it is important to find a mentor in your organization who can give you advice.
It may also be helpful to find a professional coach who can hold you accountable for the steps you decided to take in those moments of inspiration and determination to be more than you are at the present moment.
In summary, you can’t DO a goal. You DO steps to reach your goal. The old cliché, “How do you eat an elephant,” is appropriate here. The answer? “One bite at a time.”